In its fifth five-game match of the season the Nevada Union boys volleyball team dominated the middle of the floor for a pivotal Sierra Foothill League win against Del Oro.
The Miners remain at the top of the SFL standings after taking down the Golden Eagles in five thrilling, momentum-shifting sets Wednesday night at Albert Ali Gymnasium, 25-18, 13-25, 25-13, 21-25, 15-7.
“It’s something I’ve been preaching all year,” said NU head coach Marco Salcedo. “Teams can’t stop us in the middle. In game’s one, three and five, especially Game 3, we ran the middle, and it set up one-on-one on the outside, and we just straight down crushed it. All the teams can know, they still have to stop us.”
Nevada Union won the first, third and fifth game largely because they were able to draw the Golden Eagle’s defensive focus to the middle, which opened up opportunities outside. NU cruised early in Game 1, building a 10-point lead and going up 23-13 before closing it out. In Game 3, the Miners roared out to an 8-2 advantage and kept their energy up for a 12-point win. In the decisive fifth game, NU trailed early 3-1 but again found its footing and ended the match on a 14-4 run to seal it.
“We’ve played so many fifth games, (Salcedo) was like, ‘You know what to do,’” said junior Evan Kittle, who finished with 10 assists and some crucial kills down the stretch. “This had to be our game. (Tonight) was definitely cleaner than the last time we played Del Oro. We had 14 errors in our second game, but when everything is gellin’, there aren’t mistakes.”
Games two and four were definitely Del Oro’s for the taking as they battled back, blocking shots and finding cracks in the Miners’ defense. The Golden Eagles took Game 2 in a landslide 25-13, but NU returned the favor in Game 3, winning by the same margin.
“Del Oro was good at blocking,” said senior Lucas Vojak, who was a key presence on the court. “We did a pretty good job overall as a team. They had some runs. Running the middle, getting that momentum, getting kills, we started rolling with it. Chandler (Heppe) did really well passing. Trevor (Bryant) had good sets.”
The Miners were led by junior Greg Paul who slammed down 10 kills. Curtis added nine more for NU, including one that was smashed so hard it was deflected out by Del Oro into the stands. Heppe was the defensive specialist for the evening, contributing 23 digs while Bryant orchestrated the attack for the offense, setting up his teammates with 31 assists.
After three lopsided games, the fourth felt like a nail-biter as the lead was exchanged 12 times. The set was highlighted by an undying rally where both teams blocked shots, and a Del Oro player even saved a deflected ball from reaching the stands by kicking it back into play before Kittle swatted down a kill to give his team a 5-4 lead. Trailing 22-18, NU rallied back to within one, but the Golden Eagles managed to shut the door and force Game 5. The Miners bounced back and rose to the occasion with the help of a loud home crowd for their seventh SFL win.
“I was confident we would win,” senior Curtis said. “We just kept feeding the middle. Lucas (Vojak) and Austin (Marks) were awesome. We’re an energy-driven team. We came back and took advantage.”
There was so much at stake in this match because if NU had lost so much could happen, but now if the Miners can win their next two games, they grab the No. 1 seed, added Salcedo.
NU (23-7, 7-1 SFL) shapes its own destiny as it remains one game ahead of Granite Bay with only two games remaining. The Miners host Roseville for Senior Night Monday.
To contact Sports Writer Brian Shepard, call 530-477-4234 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.