The Bear River girls volleyball team felt something Saturday night it hadn’t experienced in more than a month — the piercing sting of defeat.
And with its Norcal Division IV semifinal loss to Sacred Heart Prep came the conclusion of one of the most successful seasons in Bear River girls volleyball history.
The Pioneer Valley League co-champions and Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV title holders had their 10-match winning streak snapped by the Gators, losing in four sets, 25-12, 23-25, 25-9, 25-15.
“They were very balanced,” Bear River head coach Matt MacDonald said. “Offensively they have a lot of go-to hitters. They probably had a lot of hitters that had eight or nine kills and so there wasn’t really one person we could key on. We had a little bit of nerves I think in the beginning, but we responded well with that game two win. Ultimately, hats off to Sacred Heart. I feel like we left everything out on the floor, and that’s what you want as a coach.”
Bear River’s semifinal loss in the Norcal portion of the CIF state tournament marks the deepest run by a Lady Bruin volleyball team in recent history.
“What a ride,” MacDonald said.“It’s unfortunate it ended tonight. I think we battled, we obviously went up against a very good team, and it was just such a wonderful ride. Unbelievable.”
In the first set, the Lady Bruins looked lost, committing uncharacteristic errors and finding no answers for the talented outside hitters from Sacred Heart Prep. The Gators easily cruised to a first-set victory.
“I think that we weren’t mentally prepared,” Bear River senior captain Sara Schell said. “We weren’t as confident as we usually are, and I don’t think we came into it like we should have.”
In the second set, the Lady Bruins looked more like the section champions they are, rallying from an early four-point deficit to win the set.
But in the third and fourth sets, Bear River was overmatched by the Gators’ high-energy, versatile offense and tenacious defense.
Sacred Heart Prep’s defense was smothering Saturday night, as holding the big-hitting Schell to only nine kills.
“Just blocking. That was our strategy,” Sacred Heart Prep head coach Damien Hardy said. “Great team, really good hitter, we had to stop her. We have some good blockers to block and some pretty talented players. So if we can match (Schell) up with them and block her a couple times, hopefully she would start to trip up.”
With Schell being swarmed by the Gator defense, Kirsten Pereira stepped up to lead the Lady Bruins in kills with 13. Senior Amanda Clark added four kills, and senior Kaya Johnson led the team in assists with 24.
The loss to the Gators marks the end of a stellar prep career for Schell. The impressive outside hitter concludes a career in which she was a four-year player on the Lady Bruin varsity team, earning All-PVL league honors three times, including being named MVP for the last two seasons. Schell has led Bear River to two consecutive Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship games, helping her squad take the title in her senior year.
“It’s been amazing,” Schell said of her time on the Bear River team. “It’s not only been this season. It’s been all five years that I’ve been with my nine seniors and everybody. It’s been great.
“Bear River has been my favorite out of all my teams and club teams. I always have the most fun, and I love all the girls.”
Schell is one of nine seniors who will call it a prep career for the Lady Bruins. All-PVL first-team selections Haley Brown and Kaya Johnson will move on after this season, as well as Clark, Cheyenne Gosalvez, Aspen Dutrow, Sarah Hagar, Lauren Vandervort and Nicole Nattrass.
Despite losing nine seniors, the cupboards are not left bare for next season, as All-PVL first-team selections Teryn Rath and Pereira will return next season for their senior year.
“I think Kirsten’s going to take over next year, and we definitely have some talent coming up,” Schell said. “I think we’ll be good.”
Pereira said she will miss the seniors next season but that she is ready to step up and become a leader.
“We are a family,” Pereira said. “I’m going to miss my nine seniors so much. They are everything to me. Throughout the years, we have really excelled in everything we do, and this was the year. This was the year that we went the farthest we’ve ever gone, and we made a statement for Bear River.”
After speaking with his team and as the gym slowly emptied, MacDonald had some time to reflect on the season and the time he had spent with the nine departing seniors.
“I just thank them for the memories,” he said. “They really put us on the map and got us to where we want to be as a program. They gave five years of their lives, and we are definitely going miss the heck out of them. Just wonderful, wonderful contributions to Bear River.”
To contact Sports Writer Walter Ford, call (530) 477-4232 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org