Path to a title: Nevada Union to battle Ponderosa for D-II championship Saturday | TheUnion.com

Path to a title: Nevada Union to battle Ponderosa for D-II championship Saturday

The path to a title is never an any easy one.

The journey is often filled with peaks and valleys, and daunting trials that must be overcome with the right mixture of strength, skill and mental fortitude.

For the Nevada Union Lady Miners volleyball team, their journey has taken them from a Flock Tournament title at the beginning of the season, to starting Sierra Foothill League play 0-3, to placing third in the highly competitive league, to three straight playoff wins and a spot in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championship game.

"It's been a nice progression over the years and over the months, weeks and days," Nevada Union head coach Chrys Dudek said. "They've earned it."

What the No. 2 seed Lady Miners (34-12) have earned is a spot in Saturday's D-II title game and with a win over No. 1 seed Ponderosa (32-4) would accomplish something a Nevada Union volleyball team hasn't done since 2008.

That 2008 Nevada Union Section championship team was coached by Dudek.

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"That was a long time ago," he said. "I was really nervous at that time. I think this team is as strong as that team. I think this team is more well-pounded and I feel better about what I can bring to the team."

Dudek left after the 2008 title run, but returned to the helm in 2015. Since then, he's led the Lady Miners to three straight playoff appearances.

In 2015 and 2016, NU's playoff runs were short lived as they were bounced in the first round both years, but this year's team is different and the results have been different.

After winning 31 games during the regular season, including eight in the brutal gauntlet that is the SFL, the Lady Miners have now won three straight playoff games and need just one more to reach their goal of bringing a Section title back to NU.

Standing in their way is a powerful Ponderosa Bruins squad that has lost only four times this season.

"Ponderosa is a tough team," said Dudek. "They are like us. Everyone can play. Everyone can hit. Everyone can dig. So, we just have to sharpen up our game in every aspect."

Ponderosa, who won the Capital Valley Conference, rides an 11-match winning streak into Saturday's title game.

The Bruins were tested in the playoffs needing five sets to top No. 8 Buhach Colony in the second round and five sets to slip past No. 4 St. Mary's in the semifinals. Ponderosa is in the playoffs for the second time in three years after missing out last season. The last time Ponderosa won a girls volleyball Section title was 1987.

The Lady Miners cruised past No. 15 Vista del Lago in the first round, then outlasted No. 10 Vacaville in five sets in the second round before crushing Del Oro in straight sets in the semifinals.

For Nevada Union, it's their first trip to a Section title game since they lost to Oak Ridge in the 2009 D-I title game. The last time the Lady Miners won a Section championship was in 2008, capping a run of seven straight section titles.

The 2017 Lady Miners are a group of deeply talented players that can make an impact in several ways on the court.

Senior captain and four-yard varsity player Regan Heppe is the team's top hitter, one of many solid hitters the Lady Miners have on their roster.

Heppe said the key to beating Ponderosa will be, "Keeping our cool, the way we've done all season and keeping our hearts in the game as we have been. And just knowing that we can do it."

In addition to Heppe, Nevada Union has strong hitters in senior captain Greta Kramer, senior Danica Minard, junior Meadow Aragon and sophomore Faith Menary.

Menary, who played at Forest Lake Christian during her freshmen year, transferred to Nevada Union this year and had to sit out for a portion of the season due to a transfer sit-out rule. She said the wait was worth it.

"I'm happy because I waited for something," she said. "Waited for something that meant a lot."

Running Nevada Union's offense is their third captain, junior setter Rebekah McGill, who has done an impressive job running setting up the Lady Miners hitters and leading by example with her tenacious play.

Nevada Union also gets strong contributions on a nightly basis from libero Eliza Hales and defensive specialist Lauren Engleking.

Nevada Union and Ponderosa will face off at 5 p.m., Saturday at St. Francis High School in Sacramento. Win or lose, Saturday's matchup won't be the last for NU as they have already qualified for the CIF NorCal Tournament that follows the section tournaments.

To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email wford@theunion.com.

Know & Go

Who: No. 2 Nevada Union vs. No. 1 Ponderosa

What: Sac-Joaquin Section D-II Championship

When: 5 p.m., Saturday

Where: St. Francis High School, 5900 Elvas Ave, Sacramento