Things didn’t go as smoothly as the Bear River boys volleyball team had hoped for in the opening round of the playoffs versus Burbank, but after three consecutive come-from-behind victories they are still right where they expected to be.
The Bruins eliminated the Titans from the Sac-Joaquin Division II playoffs in three straight sets Tuesday night at Jack R. McCrory Gymnasium, 25-21, 25-14, 25-20.
“We didn’t expect (to get behind),” said Bear River senior Tyler Hajewski. “We finally got our heads on right like we knew how. We realized we do need to focus if we want a favorable outcome.”
Bear River came out sluggish with an absence of energy in its step, while Burbank was loud and let its emotions show through on to the court as it quickly jumped ahead 8-3 in the first set.
It’s typical in any sport for a team that is favored to come out and play to the level of its opponent rather than taking charge like it’s capable of, but ultimately this creates a dangerous situation where the opponent builds momentum and it may be harder to regain control in the later stages, said Bear River head coach Lance Mansuetti.
The Bruins earned their first lead of Game 1 when Karsten Staples slammed down a kill to put his team up 13-12. They never lost the lead after that as Abe Bennett and Justin Beskeen each contributed kills of their own, which included a Beskeen kill for game-point to take a 1-0 lead.
“We were just going through the motions,” said senior Beskeen who finished the night with eights kills, seven blocks and four digs. “We need to pick up our energy. Once we started focusing on passing and running plays (Burbank) was thrown off. The middle was our go to position.”
The lack of energy from the Bruins was still evident midway through the second set as the Titans took advantage of poorly executed plays and misplayed balls to keep it close. After six lead changes Bear River trailed 8-7, but that’s when they found their stride setting up multiple scores in the middle and closed the game on an 18-6 run.
“We were a little bit sloppy,” Mansuetti said. “We ran quick stuff and served them tough to keep them out of the system. To beat good defenses, you have to have the quick plays in the middle.”
Despite the tremendous turnaround, the equation didn’t change much for the Bruins in the third set as they found themselves down 6-1 early after coming out flat-footed and sending a few balls out of bounds.
Hajewski knotted the game 11-11 with a kill that hit the line. Burbank reclaimed the lead, but would eventually surrender it as a block from Bennett put Bear River on top 20-19.
“I tip my hat to a team player, Justin Rypma,” Mansuetti added. “He sat on the bench in the first two games, came in for the third game and made a huge difference. He was 5-for-9 hitting and played solid defense with two digs. Abe Bennett played really well too.”
Rypma finished with five kills and helped the Bruins earn a hard fought victory to advance to the second round where they will battle Rio Linda.
“We beat (Rio Linda) in a tournament in Chico earlier this year,” said junior Karsten Staples. “They are like Burbank, a smaller team, but play great defense.”
One thing that must improve if Bear River expects to continue its championship run, is its energy level and Mansuetti has an interesting method to get the most out of his players.
“At practice. I’ll tell them to run through the drills,” explained Mansuetti. “If they don’t have enough energy, then they have to stand there screaming and yelling for five minutes. Teams like Rio Linda with tough defense wear you down until you make a mistake. We’re taking no teams for granted. No one is going to hand it to you. These teams are hungry.”
The Bruins (22-10) will look to take their energy with them when they play Rio Linda of the Capital Valley Conference Thursday night.
To contact Sports Writer Brian Shepard, call 530-477-4234 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.