DAVIS — With the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV girls volleyball championship just one point away, Bear River’s Sara Schell had the ball in her hands.
The two-time reigning Pioneer Valley League MVP tossed the ball up for her service and rifled it across the net. The Ripon Christian defender had no chance, as the ball ricocheted high off her forearm and out of play, giving the Lady Bruins the ace and the section championship.
Bear River (30-12 overall, 9-1 PVL) outlasted a talented Ripon Christian team (27-7 overall, 15-0 Southern League) Thursday at UC Davis, winning in four sets, 25-20, 20-25, 25-19, 25-23.
“We’ve been together since eighth grade. We’ve probably played over 250 matches in that time,” Bear River head coach Matt MacDonald said. “Every day we try to get better, and every day we talk about focus and staying poised and being a family. When you have played as much volleyball together as they have, you’re really more than just a team, and that’s what makes me so proud of these girls and our program. When times were tough and we got down, they just believed, and it was just unbelievable.”
Schell, a senior, led the Lady Bruins all night with her dynamic and powerful kills mixed with several soft tip kills. Schell finished with a game-high 18 kills. Setting Schell with impressive precision was senior Kaya Johnson.
“Those two and the connection they have is just amazing,” MacDonald said. “There are times when they know it’s going to Sara, and she’s got to put it down, and Kaya gets it to her, and they find a way to get it done, especially at the end.”
Johnson accounted for 37 assists on the night to go with her five aces.
“We have nine seniors, and we have been working on this for so long,” Johnson said. “Last year, we were so close. It was right in our hands. This year, it just meant the world to our seniors.”
In the first set, the Lady Bruins jumped out to a 10-1 lead over the Knights behind kills from Teryn Rath, Amanda Clark and Schell. Ripon battled back, getting to within two points at 22-20. That was as close as they got, as a Kirsten Pereira kill and some Ripon Christian errors gave the Lady Bruins the first set.
“We were so prepared for that first set,” Johnson said. “We were like this is our game. We need to come out strong and so we did.”
In the second set, Ripon Christian found its groove and got out to an early lead. Bear River battled, but the Knights did not relent, taking the set 25-20.
In the third set, the Lady Bruins fell behind early but recovered with strong play from Rath, Johnson and Schell. Bear River overcame its deficit and closed the match with a pair of Pereira kills to gain a 2-1 edge and close within one set of the championship. Pereira finished the night with 13 kills.
“Pereira is our energy,” MacDonald said. “She just provides that spark. She has since she was a freshman.”
The final set was the most tightly contested set as the teams found themselves knotted at 20. Ripon Christian got strong play from Andie Shelton to help put the Knights up 23-22. A Ripon Christian error and a Lady Bruin point gave Bear River its opportunity to grab its first section title since 1998.
Schell fired her serve over the net. The Knights couldn’t handle it, and the celebration was on, as Bear River stormed the court.
Also having strong games for Bear River were Kaely Rath, Aspen Dutrow and Haley Brown, who led the team with nine digs.
Bear River will now host a Tuesday home game in the California State Tournament.
To contact Sports Writer Walter Ford, call (530) 477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We have nine seniors, and we have been working on this for so long. … This year, it just meant the world to our seniors.”
— Kaya Johnson,
Bear River setter