LOST SEASON: Defending champion Miners eyed second straight Section banner
It was a little more than 11 months ago when the Nevada Union boys volleyball team brought home the program’s first ever Sac-Joaquin Section championship banner.
The Miners rallied from the brink in thrilling fashion, charging back from near defeat to top El Camino in the Section’s Division II title game last May at Whitney High School.
It was the culmination of a fantastic season for NU and what many Miners thought was just the beginning of a historic era in the program’s history.
Nine of the Miners who suited up for that championship contest were back this season and they were hungry for a second straight Section title.
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Their hunger will go unsatisfied though, as just three games into the 2020 season their campaign ended, along with every other prep team in the state, due to COVID-19.
For the Miners, there won’t be a run at a fourth straight league title or a second Section championship in a row. At least not this year.
“When we heard the final word, we were pretty devastated,” said senior captain Colby Quiggle. “We knew we were going to go pretty far and that we were likely to play for another Section championship. We all believed in each other and I know our coach believed in us. I feel like we were going to go all the way, no matter who was in our way. We felt like we were going to make history two years in a row.”
This year’s band of volleyball Miners were stacked with experienced players and loaded with talent, but took a workman’s approach to the game and that’s what made them elite, said head coach Lance Mansuetti.
“It’s a special group of guys who played really well together, understood the game, were humble and respectful,” said Mansuetti.
CAPTAINS OF THE SHIP
Leading the squad was team captains Quiggle and Preston Nowak.
A season ago, Nowak won the Foothill Valley League MVP and finished eighth in the Section in kills with 277. He was off to a scorching start this year and led the Miners in kills when the season was halted.
“I was really excited about going all the way. We had the team to do it, a really strong team,” said Nowak. “We had the firepower to go all the way again. I was also really looking forward to playing Granite Bay and Placer, but never got the chance to play those games.”
Mansuetti said Nowak was someone who led by example.
“When your best player is the hardest worker, then you have something special,” he said. “And, that’s what we have with Preston.”
Nowak said he plans to study engineering at the University of California Merced in the fall and play for its men’s volleyball team.
Quiggle was coming off an outstanding 2019 season in which he was named to the All-FVL First Team and was second in the entire Section in assists. He was poised for another standout season.
“He’s got such a strategic mind,” Mansuetti said. “He’s a very smart kid. He understands everything that’s going on.”
What Quiggle was most looking forward to this season was being on the court with his teammates and making another title run together.
“Just being out there with my friends. We all knew we were going to have a good time. I miss that part,” he said. “And, just going back to the championships again. I was confident in us to do that, and we never got the chance to.”
Quiggle also was looking to prove wrong any detractors the team may have had.
“Over the summer I played club volleyball with some of the kids from the other teams and they all thought (the Division II championship) wasn’t a big deal, so I wanted to go out there and whoop ’em,” he said. “We didn’t get the chance to do that, so I was bummed.”
Quiggle said he plans to attend the University of Nevada, Reno in the fall and is contemplating joining the school’s club volleyball team.
LOADED WITH TALENT
The Miners were loaded with high-flying, power-hitting players throughout their roster. In addition to Nowak, seniors Judah Myers, Bakir Torkman, Elijahblue Wilkinson and Gavin Minty all brought the hammer at the net.
Defensively, the Miners were led by seniors Jayce Youngman and Sam Johnson, a pair of scrappy liberos who were No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, on the team in digs.
“The most disappointing part for me is I have all those seniors this year,” Mansuetti said. “The challenging thing with high school sports is the freshman year and junior year players sometimes take a back seat to the upperclassman. So, I had these juniors that were part of the championship run last year who were more role players, and this year was their time to shine. Those are the guys I feel the worst for.”
Filling out the roster were juniors Joe Pardini and Eli Jones, both of whom were called up to the varsity level as sophomores a season ago.
“I just think we were a special team,” said Quiggle. “We didn’t have one standout part. We were all together and everyone knew that we were all pretty equal, and it would take all of us to win a championship. Everyone knew they had to do their part to win it, and I think at the point where the season was cut everyone was doing their part, and we were looking pretty good.”
When the season was halted in mid-March, the Miners were undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the Sacramento area by http://www.MaxPreps.com. NU had won all three of its matches in straight sets. They were gearing up for a couple of big tests against No. 2 Jesuit and Granite Bay.
“Off the court what made this team special was our connectivity,” said Nowak. “We all knew each other. We knew when each other was having a bad day, we knew when someone needed help, and we were always there for each other. That’s what made it great on the court as well. When we were there, we came to play and set everything else aside. As a team that’s what it’s all about. On and off the court we were there for each other.”
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4232.
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