Junior Chandler Heppe is one of those guys you grow to respect. He does his talking on the court. His job is to hunt down volleyballs and make sure they do not strike floor. He is the libero, the often-unsung hero. Heppe and his Nevada Union volleyball teammates successfully dismantled a talented Del Oro Golden Eagles squad Tuesday night.
If you corner Heppe, adorned with his latest addition of a blackened right eye, he can often offer a different perspective.
It was time to switch gears from battling Del Oro to contemplating the encounter at 7:30 p.m. today against the Granite Bay Grizzlies.
When asked to comment on the section final, Heppe paused for a moment. He commented, “Let me think about that for awhile. It is what we have played for. It is the ultimate moment. It is why we have practiced so hard. There were times we could have done different things. However, we practiced and worked. I think Thursday will show the time and effort we have put into this season.”
Heppe was quickly on his way. He vanished into the crowd, savoring Tuesday’s win for an ever-so-short period of time. He was changing gears to tonight’s ultimate prize.
This evening will undoubtedly test the mettle of the entire Nevada Union volleyball program. From coaches Marco Salcedo and Kelly Rhoden to their entire cast of volleyball players and trainers, this is a night to evaluate progress. It is also an opportunity to demonstrate focus, skill, execution and plain old grit.
It will take many ingredients if the Miners are to shed the frustration of a Granite Bay program that has dominated the Sac-Joaquin Section since the inception of the volleyball tournament in 2009. In the initial year, Salcedo’s Dream Team came up an eyelash short of beating Granite Bay. Arguably, they suffered the program’s most disappointing and bitter defeat.
Tonight offers the rarest of sports opportunities for redemption, respect and pride. These will be moments that Salcedo and his band of brothers will carry all of their lives. This will be a match that win or lose, will be unforgettable. It is one of those two-hour slices of life that never exits. The players will always remember this encounter. It will stick with them forever.
In the postgame din of the win over Del Oro, coach Salcedo sat alone on the bottom rung of the stands. He appeared deep in thought. Ali Gymnasium had emptied by now. The roars of moments before had exited. It was solitude, the first moment of such he had enjoyed for hours, perhaps even days. There is little doubt he dreams of volleyball. It is that big. It is that important.
He commented, “This match against Granite Bay is big personally. All of these students were in the eighth grade when we made the 2009 run. It motivated so many of them, and they played club volleyball. Now it is their turn. This is their moment. Trevor Bryant, Bobby Curtis and Austin Marks have poured their heart and soul into this. This is their last shot. All the practices, all the work, and it comes down to one match.”
Indeed, it does. The Miners bring into tonight’s challenge great momentum. Greg Paul emerged as Mr. Clutch against Del Oro. He called it the best he had ever played.
If the goal was to run the match through the middle, please witness Lucas Vojak’s team-leading 11 kills, complemented by eight kills from his middle partner, Austin Marks. The game plan was well executed.
The block was back. The Miners dominated the net and turned the Golden Eagles back on many occasions.
Finally, there was great focus. The team never took its foot off the gas pedal. Although there were moments of joy, this was a serious squad. They get it. They have figured it out. The Nevada Union volleyball Miners know what it takes.
So tonight comes down to a rather simple yet complex formula. The Miners simply need to play their game. They must execute through the middle. They must use their strong outside-hitting game to keep Granite Bay off balance. Their service game must be better.
Then the wild cards. Can Paul duplicate his Tuesday performance? Can the Miners strike gold again with the block? Can Vojak, Curtis, Bryant and Marks dominate? Finally, can Evan Kittle and Heppe round it all out and polish it into a fine gem?
So much on the line tonight at Monterey Trail — the possibility of redemption, the conquest of a nemesis, the fulfillment of dreams, the accomplishment of a goal set months (perhaps even a year) ago.
It will be a tale these boys will remember when they are 90. Win or lose, they will die with a little bit of tonight left in them. These will be unforgettable moments.
It all comes down to a good dose of focus and the quest to capitalize on a season of hard work. If they play their game, they will win.
Jim Adams lives in Nevada City and is a regular contributor to The Union and a broadcaster for TouchDown Productions. Contact him at email@example.com.