PREP VOLLEYBALL: Lady Miners swat Yellowjackets, advance to D3 title game (VIDEO/PHOTO GALLERY)
NU STAT LEADERS
Faith Menary - 27 kills, 4 aces, two blocks
Kailee McLaughlin - 12 kills, 3 blocks
Kendall Hughes - 60 assists, 4 kills
Emerson Dunbar - 7 kills, 2 blocks
Kiana Spillner - 6 aces
The Lady Miners are headed to the Sac-Joaquin Section’s Division 3 championship game.
“They’ve earned it,” said Nevada Union girls volleyball head coach Chrys Dudek after his team’s semifinal victory over the Hilmar Yellowjackets Tuesday night. “We’ve been through a lot this season; six tournaments, some tough league matches, a heartbreaker at the end of league, but they’ve earned it and they deserve it. Their hearts are in it. They’ve been working so well together and man, what a great group of girls.”
Competing in front of a raucous crowd at Albert Ali Gymnasium, the No. 1 seed Lady Miners battled their way to a five set victory, 21-25, 25-19, 25-19, 19-25, 15-13, over the No. 4 Yellowjackets, who had reached six straight D4 championship games and won two (2018, 2017) prior to being moved into D3 this season.
“It was really cool to experience the crowd, and use their energy to amplify our play,” said NU senior outside hitter Faith Menary, who at times took over the match with her impressive play. “(Hilmar) is probably one of the toughest teams we’ve played so far this season, but we really stepped it up.”
After the two volleyball powers split the first four sets, the match came down to a fifth and final frame. The Lady Miners fell into an early hole, 8-4, before charging back behind a pair of kills from Menary and a couple of Hilmar errors. With the Lady Miners trailing, 9-8, Kiana Spillner stepped to the service line and took over. The junior scored a pair of aces to put NU up by one. A block put up by NU’s Kendall Hughes and Ashlyn Franssen gave the Lady Miners a two-point advantage. Spillner then added another ace to make it 12-9.
“You could see by my reactions that I was trying to control my smile,” said Spillner, noting that she had to really focus on controlling her emotions despite all the adrenaline she was feeling. “I felt like I wasn’t just doing this for myself, I was doing it for my team as well. I always remember that saying coach Dudek says to us, ‘When you walk into this gym, know that you are playing for the team.’ So when I go back there I say, ‘let’s make this serve not only for myself, but for my team.”
Spillner finished with six aces in the match. The Lady Miners tallied 14 overall.
A Menary kill made it 13-10, and a Franssen kill pushed the set to match point at 14-11. Hilmar would not go easy though, and powered down a pair of kills to pull within one. But, a hitting error by the Yellowjackets ended it and sent the Lady Miners into a fit of jubilation.
“At the end of the day this is why we are here,” said Spillner. “We love to play volleyball and love to play volleyball with each other.”
The win was a team effort as NU saw multiple players step up in key situations.
Menary led all NU hitters with 27 kills to go with four aces, six digs and two blocks.
“It’s not just her skills, but she brings camaraderie to the group,” Dudek said of Menary. “It’s not just about when she gets that big kill, it’s not just about when she’s serving well — she helps pull the girls together. When she feels confident, the girls feel confident with her.”
Kailee McLaughlin also impressed throughout, hammering down 12 kills and notching a team-high three blocks.
Emerson Dunbar scored seven kills to go with two aces and two blocks. The senior also showed grit by coming back after a mid-match injury to score a couple of kills.
The offense was ran well all night by Hughes, who doled out a season-high 60 assists to go with four timely kills and four digs.
Kayda Kinch (six kills), Reese Werner (four digs, two aces), Kendall Gould (three digs) and Franssen (three kills, two blocks) all played key roles in the victory as well.
“Having multiple people step in really added to the team atmosphere and the family aspect of our game, which is really important and helps us win,” said Menary.
The Lady Miners (41-10) are back in a section championship game for the second time in three seasons. They lost the D2 title match to Ponderosa in 2017. The last time NU won a section title was in 2008, which wrapped up a streak of seven straight section championships.
The Lady Miners will face the No. 2 seeded Central Catholic Raiders (26-8), who topped No. 3 Christian Brothers in straight sets in the other D3 semifinal.
NU and Central Catholic met up earlier this season at a tournament, with the Raiders winning that match in straight sets. They also faced off in the D3 semifinals a season ago with Central Catholic taking it in five sets.
The championship bout is set for 3 p.m. Saturday at Natomas High School.
“We just have to keep working one point at a time,” said Dudek. “They’re an amazing group of girls who are resilient.”
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4232.
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