Glance at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-I boys volleyball playoff bracket and it’s easy to write off a No. 3 seed like Nevada Union, but ask the Miners and they simply don’t see it that way.
NU earned a playoff spot on the last night of the regular season by taking care of business at home on Senior Night, defeating Woodcreek in four sets. Roseville, who was tied with NU entering the night, lost its final match at Del Oro. Now the Miners will hit the road Thursday and battle Grant, the No. 1 seed out of the Delta Valley Conference.
“We haven’t seen Grant this year,” said NU head coach Marco Salcedo. “I think we’ve played them a couple times in the last three or four years. Their record doesn’t (indicate) strength. They’re in a weak league. Last time we played them they were like 20-0, then we showed up and boom. They’re scrappy. You never know though. Anything can happen in the playoffs.”
There is definitely some truth to that statement. The Pacers (19-1, 10-0 DVC) have been knocked out of the playoffs by a Sierra Foothill League opponent the last two seasons, losing 3-0 to NU in the 2012 quarterfinals and 3-0 to Del Oro in last season’s opening round. Currently Grant is ranked 86th in the state by Maxpreps while the Miners come in ranked 49th.
However, the Pacers are riding a 10-game win streak and their only loss came March 27 versus Ponderosa, 3-0. In a cross comparison, the Miners also played Ponderosa this season in a non-league match and won 3-1.
“(On Senior Night) we ended our low-energy streak,” said senior Evan Kittle, who leads the team in attacking with 166 kills on the season. “It shows we have some hope for where we go in the playoffs. I don’t care whoever we get, I’ll play them.”
The squad has definitely had its share of ups and downs after losing senior Greg Paul for most of the second half of league play. The Miners came within inches of taking a late lead in the fourth set versus Granite Bay to nearly force a fifth set, then the team lost its next two road matches at Del Oro and Roseville before bouncing back last week when it mattered most.
“I feel like the last couple of matches have been real rough,” said senior Paul. “Marco talked to us, got us focused in to work as hard as we could to fight for the playoffs. A lot depends on how we prep. We’ll know to get ready for their crowd. We’ll be fine.”
With the exception of it’s loss to Ponderosa, Grant has only dropped four additional sets all season long. The Pacers defeated Oakmont 3-2 and Roseville 3-2. Every other opponent has been swept 3-0. The squad also has just three seniors compared to the Miners’ seven.
“We don’t look past those games,” explained Salcedo. “The big thing for us is concentrating for the next match.”
Despite the focus being on Grant, coach Salcedo couldn’t help but comment and be excited about a possible second round match up with the overall top-seed, the Granite Bay Grizzlies.
“I’m so ready to knockout Granite Bay,” added Salcedo. “We had our little low. Now the team has come back together. A big addition was getting Greg (Paul) back. It really uplifted the guys’ attitude. I can see confidence now.”
On the other side of the bracket, No. 2 seed Del Oro hosts No. 2 seed Jesuit and No. 1 seed Ponderosa hosts No. 2 seed Davis Sr.
The Miners take the court 7 p.m. Thursday at Grant.
Brian Shepard is a freelance sports writer who contributes to The Union regularly.