PREP VOLLEYBALL: Bear River, Placer face off in league opener
When it comes to girls volleyball in the Pioneer Valley League, there are two teams that seem to battle for the top spot year in and year out — Bear River and Placer.
Going back to 2008, when current Bear River head coach Matt MacDonald took over the Lady Bruins program, either Placer or Bear River have taken home the league crown. Bear River has won three of the last six league titles, with their last coming in 2015. Placer has won three of the last four and is the reigning league title holder.
This year, the two PVL volleyball powers will open the season against each other as Bear River travels to Placer to face the Hillgals at 6 p.m. today.
“That Placer rivalry goes back years,” said MacDonald, who doesn’t think the PVL is a two-horse race this season. “This year, more than any, it’s anyone’s game.”
The Lady Bruins come into the matchup with an 11-12 overall record after going 2-2 at the Battle in the Buttes Tournament last weekend.
MacDonald said he’s confident in where his team is at as they head into league, and is looking for his team to continue improving.
“I feel really solid about us,” he said before a practice last Wednesday. “I feel like we’ve grown a lot … I think we’re starting to find our identity.”
MacDonald added that he has only one goal for his team this season.
“At the end of the year, are we playing our best volleyball? That’s what we want and that hasn’t changed,” he said. “We play a lot of games because by November we want to be playing our best volleyball. We used to always talk about goals. We would want to win league or a section title. But now our goal is to keep playing in late November and whatever happens, happens. Whether we won league to make it or otherwise.”
The Lady Bruins, who graduated All-PVL players Ashley Albee and Alex Staples from last year’s squad, are led by senior captains Mallory Rath and Kayla Toft, as well as hitters Callie Bickmore, Karinne McDonald, Kylee Dresbach-Hill and setter Caitlin McLaughlin.
Toft, the team’s libero, said she has embraced the role of captain and considers it one of her responsibilities to make her teammates better each day.
“I just want to lead by example,” she said. “Get to things early, play my best every time and encourage my teammates to play their best. Encourage my teammates on and off the floor.”
Rath, a setter last year, has made the shift to hitter this season as McLaughlin has taken over the setter position full time.
“It’s a little weird … It’s definitely a challenge,” she said of the switch in position. Rath does have a well of experience to draw from though as both her older sisters Teryn and Kaely were hitters at Bear River and currently play at the college level.
“They tell me to stay calm, poised and think about placing the ball,” she said.
McLaughlin has taken to the setter position nicely and is also a force at the service line with 17 aces this season.
“Caitlin’s become one of our best servers, but she also runs the offense by herself as a junior,” said MacDonald. “She’s doing a really good job.”
The Lady Bruins top server has been Dresbach-Hill with a team-best 29 aces.
Bear River’s most consistent weapon on offense has been Bickmore, who was an All-PVL selection as a sophomore, and leads the team with 130 kills this season.
“She’s still young to the game, but she was an all-league player last year,” said MacDonald. “She’s definitely bringing her power and we have some other players that take on a big portion of our offense too.”
McDonald, a senior middle block, is second on the team in kills. Dresbach-Hill is also a strong hitter and Rath adds a third option.
Placer comes into the contest with a 3-8 overall record, but riding a two-match winning streak over Bear River, having won both matchups last season.
“Placer’s got the most size. They bring a lot of power,” said MacDonald, who believes this season’s stretch of difficult non-league games has prepared his team for the rigors of league play.“We feel the schedule and the success we’ve had so far is really going to set us up for good things in league.”
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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