A different, more confident Bear River boys volleyball team walked onto the court Thursday night at Rio Linda and completely stole the show as it knocked the Knights off their Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoff horse in three straight sets in front of their home crowd, 25-14, 25-21, 25-16.
“We were in control,” said Bruins head coach Lance Mansuetti. “We didn’t force the issue. We were disciplined to run the middle. The scrappy teams rely on mistakes, and we stayed under control and let our offense do the job.”
Bear River towered above Rio Linda, not just on the scoreboard, but physically they were head and shoulders above the Knights.
Seniors Justin Beskeen and Jaxson Toschi each contributed stellar performances on the evening as the Bruins’ well-executed passing opened wide windows of opportunity and gave them a quick 9-2 lead.
“We had really good passing set up our kills,” said Toschi, who finished with 10 kills and 19 assists. “We’ve responded well to adversity all year. We also had a good practice yesterday, more intensity and team work.”
The Bruins went on to win Game 1 by 11 points as the Knights were under siege nearly every play. Bear River did serve a five-minute screaming session during Wednesday’s practice, much to the pleasure of Mansuetti.
“They had to,” explained Mansuetti. “The practice got stagnant.”
There was no evidence of energy being an issue as Bear River stayed on its toes during a heated second set that saw an astounding 16 lead changes. Rio Linda once held a three-point lead (9-6) and two-point lead when it led 20-18, but after a Bear River timeout, the Bruins took control.
“It was neck and neck,” said Mansuetti. “I called a timeout to remind our guys to focus. That’s what I’ve been preaching after Burbank — focus and stay under control.”
Suddenly ,the Knights scattered as if a dragon had spit fire, and Beskeen swatted down a kill to pull his team within one. Rio Linda failed to return the next serve, then Karsten Staples launched a missile over the net that was deflected out of bounds to put Bear River on top 21-20. The Knights were flustered as miscommunication led to a ball dropping between the defense, then Beskeen and Tyler Hajewski fired down kills to take Game 2.
“We had more confidence,” said Beskeen, who filled up the stat book with 15 kills, five blocks, four digs and four aces. “We played to win. I came more focused than I have been. They wanted us to make mistakes.”
After losing the second game late, Rio Linda came out in Game 3 a little flat. Bear River kept on making smart decisions and kept itself in system to take the final set as easily as it did the first. Nick Mansuetti, who celebrated his 16th birthday Thursday, was the orchestrator of it all as he positioned himself perfectly and set his teammates up with a game-high 27 assists. On the receiving end most of the set were Beskeen, Toschi and Staples, who tallied seven kills in the final set to give the Bruins a nine-point victory.
“The game came easily to Justin (Beskeen),” added Lance Mansuetti. “He stayed back and was patient. He hits it hard even when it’s just at 80 percent.”
It was also a phenomenal match for Toschi, who has stepped up and proven himself not only as a passer but also as a major offensive threat.
“This has been Toschi’s year,” Lance Mansuetti said. “He has really blossomed and proven himself as one of our best offensive weapons.”
Of course, there’s always room for improvement, even after breaking down the Knight’s wall of defense.
“We still need adjusting to our confidence running certain plays to fool the defense,” Mansuetti said. “We will continue to do more and more in games.”
The Bruins (23-10) savored the victory afterward with a postgame meal at Chipotle and now will have a chance at the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last season when they travel to take on the No. 1 seed, Vista del Lago of the Sierra Valley Conference, Tuesday night.
To contact Sports Writer Brian Shepard, call 530-477-4234 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.