Fresh off a first-round bye, reigning North Coast Section Div. 6 volleyball champion Calistoga got its title defense under way in its playoff opener at home Monday.
The third-seeded Wildcats overcame a sluggish start to dispatch No. 11 seed Anderson Valley-Boonville in three sets, 25-23, 25-23, 25-13, to set up semifinal home match against No. 7 seed San Francisco Waldorf on Wednesday night.
“I think we got caught into their game a bit,” said Calistoga head coach T’Anne Butcher. “Just bump, bump, bump, bump, bump, and I’m like ‘No, that’s not our game. We need to hit, hit, hit, hit.’ As usual, once there’s a little momentum, we usually kind of get there and get into a rhythm and then we start playing. But we did have four days of no practice, so we finally got in here and had two practices last week.”
Butcher said all of the Wildcats (14-8) got into the match, including two she brought up from the junior varsity, and that it was truly a team effort.
“Our setter, Angeli Aquino, who is our team leader and captain, orchestrated every hit with her sets and held the team together,” the coach added. “At the net, Vanesa Quiepo and Litzy Infante were the powerhouses, rounded out with the tireless net defense by Andrea Villaseñor. Defense was a tremendous asset with very few errors. Laila Elkeshen held it down in the back row, and we got some tremendous saves from Katie Saunders.”
Anderson Valley (11-6) entered the match wearing its underdog badge proudly, having advanced to the second round via a thrilling five-set upset of No. 6 seed St. Bernard’s on Thursday in Eureka. The Panthers don’t play a flashy style but instead deploy a stout and fundamentally sound defense that forces teams into mistakes.
“Kudos to them,” Butcher said. “Their defense, I mean they were scrapping up our hits. They’ve got amazing defense and, yeah, we weren’t really playing our best game and they were kind of getting us off our formula because they were throwing it to the back corner a lot.”
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Meanwhile, Calistoga had last played on its Senior Night on Oct. 24. Even with the first-round bye, the Wildcats were supposed to open postseason play on Saturday but had to reschedule due to the Kincade Fire.
The Wildcats needed a few points to shake the rust from the time off, playing behind for most of the first set. They took their first lead at 20-19, and then needed to rally again from a 23-21 deficit, but did so with four straight points to win 25-23, mainly thanks to several costly errors by the Panthers.
The script flipped in the second set as the Wildcats led from the onset, including 18-8 at one point. But Calistoga errors kept Anderson Valley afloat as it climbed its way out of the early hole. The Panthers actually took a 23-22 lead with a 7-0 run that injected some nervous energy into the home crowd. But the Wildcats fed off the stomping and cheering that soon grew from the bleachers to roar back and take the set 25-23.
The Wildcats finished off the night with a convincing third-set win. They trailed 5-4 early but looked more and more like the No. 3 seed they were as the set progressed. From trailing 5-4, the Wildcats rattled off the next five points and went on to close out the match with a 25-13 win.
Now the Wildcats turn their focus to San Francisco Waldorf, which they’ll host at 7 p.m. Wednesday. If Calistoga wins, it will play either No. 1 seed Fremont Christian or No. 4 seed California Crosspoint in the section championship on Saturday.
Even if their run in the NCS playoffs ends on Wednesday, their season will likely continue in the CIF NorCal playoffs for the second straight season. The NCS sends four teams to the Div. 6 NorCal playoffs and now, as one of the final four teams remaining in the NCS playoffs, the Wildcats have likely already punched their ticket.