GRASS VALLEY — At this point in the season, every team is a contender.
That’s why the Nevada Union girls volleyball team isn’t taking any opponent lightly and at the same time trying to grow as a cohesive unit and build confidence.
“When we are confident, when we’re putting the ball down, we’re not only getting points but we’re building up ourselves so we can be better on the next point,” said Nevada Union head coach Chrys Dudek.
The Lady Miners certainly looked confident Tuesday night as they topped a competitive Justin-Siena squad in straight sets, 25-23, 25-20, 25-23, in the first round of the CIF NorCal Division III volleyball tournament.
“Growing together as a team is really helping us,” said Nevada Union’s Faith Menary, who led the Lady Miners with 13 kills and five aces. “Just wanting to make the person next to us better and feeding off each other’s energy is really helpful.”
Competing in the friendly confines of Albert Ali Gymnasium, the No. 2 seed Lady Miners (33-18) showcased their arsenal of weapons as Kendall Hughes tallied seven kills, Teola Nowak scored six kills and Emerson Dunbar chipped in three kills.
Running NU’s offense with great skill was senior setter Bekah McGill, who tallied a team-high 29 assists.
The Lady Miners’ defense had its hands full with Justin-Siena’s 6-foot, 4-inch Julia Sangiacomo, but did a good job of containing the powerful outside hitter.
Sangiacomo finished with 22 kills, 11 digs and two blocks. Megan Hanson added four kills, three blocks and an ace, Eva Cleary had four kills, four digs and two aces, and Shelby Thomason had 31 assists, four digs and a block.
Leading NU’s defensive effort was Menary with 15 digs. Junior libero Sydney Rhoden also played well, with 11 digs, and Hughes came up with 10 digs. Nowak was strong at the net with two blocks.
The Lady Miners opened the match hot, racing out to a 16-7 lead. The 15th-seeded Braves (19-6) responded with a 12-2 run, keyed by a series of powerful kills from Sangiacomo, to take a 19-18 lead.
But the Lady Miners closed the set strong, getting a kill from Hughes and blocks from McGill and Nowak to eke out the 2-point victory.
Justin-Siena controlled the second set early on, grabbing a 17-12 lead. That’s when Menary took over. The 5-10 junior scored a pair of kills before taking the service line down 19-16. Menary reeled off eight straight points from the service line, notching several aces and getting clutch kills from Dunbar to give NU a 24-19 lead. The Lady Miners finished off the 5-point win with a kill from Nowak.
The Braves also put up a fight in the third, leading 14-12 midway through the set thanks to strong play by Sangiacomo, Peyton Newell, Cleary and Hanson. But NU, as it had done all night long, went on a long scoring run to halt any momentum Justin-Siena may have had. The Lady Miners ripped off eight straight points to grab a 20-14 edge before capping the sweep with another 2-point victory.
Nevada Union will host No. 10 Miramonte, which upset No. 7 Mountain View in five sets Tuesday, in a quarterfinal at 7 p.m. Thursday.
It’s only the second time this season that Justin-Siena has lost in three sets. The other sweep was at a Sacramento tournament by San Francisco’s Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep, ranked No. 6 in the state by MaxPreps.com.
“It’s just minimizing mistakes and being confident in ourselves and our teammates and working together,” said Dudek. “When I watch other successful teams, it’s not just their skill sets, it’s how they use those skills and how they work together, how they play well together. That’s what we’re focused on, playing well together day after day.”
The Braves concluded a tremendous season in which they also won the inaugural Vine Valley Athletic League title, reached the North Coast Section Div. 4 semifinals, and returned to the NorCal playoffs.
“All season they’ve worked so hard and I just told them I couldn’t be prouder of them, Justin-Seina head coach Chelsea Reilley said. “They give it their all every practice and every game. And you know, being a little D-4 team playing up in D-III is a testament to all their hard work and effort they’ve put in.”