Nevada Union hadn’t won a volleyball match versus Rocklin in two years, but that changed Wednesday night at Albert Ali Gymnasium as the Miners silenced the Thunder in three straight sets, 25-22, 25-22, 25-15.
“It was our first league game and we haven’t beat Rocklin in two years,” said NU head coach Marco Salcedo. “I’m happy.”
Rocklin finished last season as runner up in the Sac-Joaquin Division I tournament, losing to Granite Bay. It was the Grizzles who also knocked out NU in the semifinals in heartbreaking fashion, 3-2.
Although the Miners won Wednesday night’s match in straight sets, the first two frames proved to be a challenge.
The Thunder set the tempo in the first set going up early 2-1. NU rallied to tie the game on a few different occasions including a kill by Trevor Bryant. Evan Kittle served up a rocket that gave the Miners a 7-6 lead, but Rocklin roared back to build a 14-10 advantage. The Miners kept things tight and fought their way back to reclaim the lead 19-18 as Bryant swatted down another kill. Rocklin couldn’t recover offensively and hit the set’s final point out of bounds as NU took game one.
“It was a matter of settling our guys down,” Salcedo said. “A big pet peeve is our serving. Tonight we had 14 missed serves, 10 in the first two games. We need to clean it up.”
The second set was almost a mirror image of the first set with Rocklin and NU exchanging the lead six times as neither team could pull ahead by more than three points. The Thunder took a 14-13 lead when the Miners hit a serve out of bounds and held on until Bobby Curtis’ kill tied the game 22-22. Chandler Heppe served for two of the final three points and Curtis added another kill.
NU was led by its starting seniors Curtis, Bryant and juniors Kittle and Heppe. Curtis led the charge offensively smashing down 15 kills. Bryant tallied five kills and 22 assists, setting up the ball extremely well for his teammates. Heppe finished with seven digs and a pair of aces while Kittle was all over the place offensively as he contributed seven kills, four aces, 16 assists and five blocks.
“I had a lot of fun,” said Kittle. “Ever since last year I’ve wanted it so bad. We’re definitely top dog. We got it going for us. With our height and skill we’re a big threat.”
Nevada Union maintained its momentum jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the third set and never trailed the remainder of the match. The Thunder lost their touch and had trouble trying to return serves as balls sailed off the court and out of play.
“The energy of everyone was feeding into the team,” Kittle said. “Bobby (Curtis) was on the outside just swinging away.”
Kittle served up a few scorchers and his teammates communicated well to set up high percentage kill attempts that led to 4-0 and 3-0 runs to extend the Miners lead to 22-11.
“No (other team) can come close offensively,” said Salcedo. “Blocking and serving are just the two areas we need to work on, because our guys are so big lots of other teams will hit at different angles.”
First year varsity players Gabe Saturnino and Nathaniel Cartmell came off the bench to get in the mix, each contributing a kill on offense to help slam the door for NU’s first Sierra Foothill League win of the season.
“It’s (the starting players) job to get the game to where we had it,” added Salcedo. “They take it to heart to get those other guys in there instead of letting other teams hang around.”
NU (7-2, 1-0 SFL) will get to showcase all of its talent as it travels to compete among a field of 56 teams from the southwestern United States region at the Las Vegas Easter Invitational Monday and Tuesday.
To contact Sports Writer Brian Shepard, call 530-477-4234 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.