Nevada Union volleyball coach Marco Salcedo was unusually calm. For a man preoccupied with the performance of his team over the last month, he finally seemed to be resigned to the fact that the Miners may be as ready as they ever will be. He did not speak of apprehension. Sleepless nights were not a part of this dialogue. The long text messages of weeks back had been replaced by short answers as he rolled back toward Nevada County after yet another weekend of volleyball in Reno.
Salcedo seemed at peace as he faced what arguably is the most important week of his high school coaching career. On Tuesday night, he will face the Del Oro Golden Eagles at Ali Gymnasium at 7 p.m. If the Miners survive that encounter, it will be a Thursday date at Monterey Trail for all the marbles. It would be Nevada Union’s first Sac-Joaquin title after several failed attempts.
The year 2009 must still haunt Salcedo. Playing Granite Bay in the first section championship tournament, the Miners led 2-0 in sets and seemed to be rolling toward a three-set sweep. However, Granite Bay snuck by in game three. By the time they arrived at Set 5, the Miners surged to a 14-12 lead. However, the Grizzles rattled off four straight points as Miners were strewn across the court on the final tally. The dream evaporated in a matter of moments. It was the most bitter of disappointments.
Indeed, It was a low point. It has taken four long years to get back to this week … section championship week. There have been a lot of trials and tribulations along the way. They were all designed with these next two dates with destiny in mind.
Trevor Bryant is the first Miner to snag a Division I scholarship to play volleyball. He is not allowing himself to think of Thursday. He knows that if they don’t put it all on the court Tuesday, there will be no Thursday encounter.
He states, “I’m excited. We have played them twice and they’ve been close. This will be a tough week. We would like to be the first team from Nevada Union to win sections.”
Bryant was hobbled last week with a concussion. He was not cleared to play until last Thursday, just in time for the four-set victory versus Oak Ridge in Round 1 for NU.
He concluded, “I have played since sixth grade on school teams and club. I feel like I have done it all for this.”
Indeed, there is a sense of urgency among players to finish the job. They know that this is the very closest the Miners have been since 2009. Many will attest that this is a stronger squad than NU has ever fielded.
Power hitter Bobby Curtis noted, “We are prepared. We have been cracking down on the details. We are working against defending what Del Oro is good at while taking advantage of their weaknesses. I feel the pressure, and I like it. I like being a go-to guy. It is my senior year and I want to go out with sections.”
Indeed, this squad seems calmly ready to compete. They have addressed weaknesses. They have found a new level in which they gel. There may have been closer squads, but it would be a challenge to identify them. Salcedo has prepared them well for the goal at hand. He knows that if play goes through the Miners middle, it is the best shot at victory. This is how they have orchestrated the game plan.
Junior Chandler Heppe noted, “We must shut down their middle and open us up through the middle. These are the keys to success.”
Salcedo echoed these sentiments when he added, “We are going to work more on the middle to get ready. We need big matches from Lucas Vojak and Austin Marks. I must have them blocking. We need to shut Del Oro down while running our middle. When we set our middle, games are usually 25-13 or 25-15.”
There is an excited calm at Ali Gymnasium. The No. 1 seed enjoys one more game in their home digs. They hope for a big crowd, a seventh man in the form of a loud audience. The players and Salcedo all spoke of how important the turnout will be tonight.
The parts to the puzzle that have eluded the Miners for a good part of the season have fallen into place at the right time. It is now up to them to play their game, make their statement, run their offense, and defend well.
Salcedo concluded, “I feel confident. If you look at the match-ups, we are superb. Against Oak Ridge our passing was good. Chandler on defense was good. We must get Bobby going. Practice has changed to a new level. It has helped my confidence. I am starting to see it with this team. Now I am seeing the eagle eye, and that they want to win. We must play well.”
The Nevada Union volleyball Miners have sized it up. If ever there was a team that was ready, it is this one. It is the culmination of four years. A combination of high school play and club tournaments. It has all come down to one simple week. It starts tonight. They hope it extends to Thursday.
Should they survive the Golden Eagles, it will be the winner of the Granite Bay/Jesuit match they will face.
Heb Brooks repeatedly told his 1980 U.S. Olympic team during their conquest of the Russians in Lake Placid, “Play your game.”
Fast forward 34 years later. This is the Miner mantra. They are a talented squad. Salcedo’s championship drought is on the line. For Marks, Curtis, and Bryant, it is the last shot.
So much on the line. So many plots and sub plots. It all plays out tonight at 7 p.m.
Jim Adams lives in Nevada City and is a regular contributor to The Union and a broadcaster for TouchDown Productions. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.