Fresh off its spring break practice sessions at “the beach,” the Bear River volleyball squad hit the court Tuesday feeling energized and full of swagger. The Bruins slid by Placer to win in four thrilling sets, 25-23, 25-21, 22-25, 25-23, at Jack R. McCrory Gymnasium.
The win keeps Bear River in second place in the Capital League standings, two games back of Whitney.
“It’s a big win,” said Bear River big man Karsten Staples. “Placer is a good team. We had a full week off, played some beach and came out on fire.”
It was one of those matches where each set could have gone either way as Bear River won its three games by just eight points combined, taking the first two sets before dropping the third and going on to win the fourth. Yet, in almost every situation where the Bruins found themselves with their backs up against the wall, they found a way to persevere.
“It was a lot closer than we wanted,” Bear River hitter Justin Beskeen said. “The win was nice. We did a lot better on defense, had more digs, more opportunities to score.”
The Bruins came out blazing, and quickly built themselves a five-point lead, going up 12-7 in the first set. Led by Beskeen and Staples, Bear River never trailed as the duo kept the team in it with big plays and tremendous athleticism. Placer fought back to tie the game 15-15, but the Bruins pulled back in front, forcing the Hillmen to their heels with smashes too hot to handle. Staples slammed down a kill for match point to give his team the 1-0 set advantage.
“We went to the sand courts at Regional Park,” said Bruins head coach Lance Mansuetti. “We worked on defense, footwork and better communication. We really incorporated practice into what we did tonight.”
The second set favored the Hillmen most of the way with Placer leading by as many as five points at 20-15 before Bear River rallied to go on a 10-1 run for the victory.
“You need to keep fighting for every point,” added Mansuetti. “For our scrimmages, we played if you hit it out, the game is over. During crunch time, you can’t make mistakes. Staying in the game and coming back mentally, that’s where they won.”
The Hillmen finally pulled themselves together when they had to for the third set, but even then, Bear River didn’t make life easy as it led the first half of the game and finally lost the lead on a block into the net to make it 16-15. The Bruins pulled within two points late, but Placer avoided another meltdown and hung on for the win.
“We had more energy,” Beskeen said. “Once it started kicking in, we played better.”
Bear River was led by Beskeen, who hammered down 17 kills and came up with five blocks on the defensive end. Staples had a tremendous performance as well, tallying 10 kills and five digs. Justin Rypma added nine kills, and Tyler Hajewski contributed six digs and four blocks.
Despite not being able to send Placer home in three straight sets, the Bruins didn’t dwell on their third-set loss for long as they jumped out to a 7-2 lead in the fourth. A few Bear River blunders gave the Hillmen new life, and the game was tied 7-7. From there it was a battle to the finish as neither team could pull away more than two points from the other. Trailing 17-16, Staples fired down a kill to tie it, and Rypma followed by laying one in the back corner to give Bear River the lead for good.
“Beskeen and Staples play front and back all the way around, which is a testament to their athleticism,” said Mansuetti. “They kept momentum on Bear River’s side by making clutch plays when it mattered most against a dangerous Placer team that always gives us close games.”
Bear River (8-5, 4-2 PVL) will look for its fifth league win of the season Thursday against Rio Americano.
To contact Sports Writer Brian Shepard, call 530-477-4234 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.