PREP VOLLEYBALL: Bear River looks to topple Hilmar, advance to title game |

PREP VOLLEYBALL: Bear River looks to topple Hilmar, advance to title game

Bear River's Nerissa Long and Alex Staples go for the block during round two of the playoffs against Escalon Thursday night.
Laura Mahaffy/ | The Union

KNow & Go

What: Sac-Joaquin Section D-IV semifinals

Who: No. 3 Bear River (38-3) at No. 2 Hilmar (35-6)

When: 7 p.m., today

Where: Hilmar High School, 7807 Lander Ave, Hilmar

After losing to Hilmar in the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs a year ago, Bear River girls volleyball head coach Matt MacDonald had a feeling his team would get another crack at the Yellowjackets this year.

“We’ve been preparing for this one since that loss last year,” MacDonald said.

When the No. 3 seed Lady Bruins (38-3) and No. 2 seed Lady Yellowjackets (35-6) face off tonight in the D-IV semifinals it will be the third straight year they have met up in the postseason, with the previous two going Hilmar’s way.

“We feel prepared,” MacDonald said, citing a more balanced Lady Bruins team and a level of familiarity. “In a weird way it’s kind of familiar. The travel, the gym, we’ve done it all before.”

Hilmar is the Trans Valley League champ and is led by senior outside hitter Emily Baptista, who leads the team in kills and aces.

“They have one of the best players in the area in Emily,” MacDonald said. “They also have other weapons that they have been able to build around.”

Hilmar’s other standouts are senior hitter Riley Souza, sophomore middle Mariah Ahid, senior libero Avery Martin, and sophomore setter Hannah Pearce, who has 1,007 of the team’s 1,098 assists.

“They are very well coached, and do a lot of different things that make them a complete team,” MacDonald said.

For many of the Lady Bruins, this is the third time they will face Hilmar and their urge for revenge is brimming.

“I’m excited to get revenge,” said Bear River’s senior libero Brooke Hajewski.

“My personal goal is to beat Hilmar,” added Bear River’s senior setter Savannah Wirth.

The third installment of this playoff matchup almost didn’t happen as the Lady Bruins got all they could handle from No. 6 seed Escalon in the second round. Bear River eked out a five set victory over Escalon, its 24th in a row. It was a game MacDonald said his team needed.

“We needed that. We needed to be tested, because if we want to go deeper we need to know what its like to be down 2-1,” MacDonald said after topping Escalon.

MacDonald added that the 2015 Lady Bruins team is one of the most balanced groups he’s had at Bear River, and that has him feeling confident.

“That buys us a little confidence,” he said. “We’re not just relying on two players to win.”

The Pioneer Valley League champion Lady Bruins boast the league MVP in Kaely Rath as well as All-PVL selections Hajewski, Wirth, Ashley Albee, Alex Staples, Nerissa Long and Melanie Jenkins. Bear River also has talent off the bench in Eleesa Schumacher, Kayla Toft and Kaitlyn Solomon.

The last time Bear River won a Sac-Joaquin Section title was 2012. The Yellowjackets have stood in the way ever since.

As for the key to victory, Rath said her team jut needs to stay calm and stick together.

“We need to keep playing our game and not get freaked out,” she said. “We need to keep calm and keep playing like a family.”

Bear River and Hilmar will battle at 7 p.m. tonight in Hilmar for the right to play in the D-IV championship Saturday.

To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email

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