Women's Volleyball

Women's volleyball team battles, but falls in state title match

Courtesy of on My Game Photography
Courtesy of on My Game Photography

Irvine Valley's women's volleyball team lost its first match of the 2019 season in the CCCAA State Championship final.

The Lasers gave it all that they had in the match.

IVC defeated American River in five sets in the quarter finals on Friday and then rallied to beat Fresno City in five sets in the semifinals on Saturday.

Irvine Valley battled to a fifth set with Feather River in the championship match on Sunday, but it wasn't enough.

Feather River captured its first state title.

The release about the match is below. Irvine Valley finished the year with a record of 27-1 overall, won its third Orange Empire Conference title in a row and had honors, accolades and fun throughout the 2019 season. The squad also represented Irvine Valley at the highest level.

(CHULA VISTA)--The 2019 CCCAA Women's Volleyball State Championship tournament featured a number of individual great power hitters, but no one group stood out more than the Feather River Five as tourney MVP setter Mere Nagase, opposite Natalie Thomas, middle blocker Sydney Gott and outside hitters Lelaau Tuia and Aurora Carnes continually pounded the ball until all five reached double figures in kills Sunday afternoon in the championship match.

The 65 kills combined from them propelled Feather River College (35-2) to its first-ever state championship in any sport and the North Region's fifth in the last seven years as the Golden Eagles ruined Irvine Valley's undefeated season, 23-25, 25-20, 25-20, 26-28, 15-11.

The Lasers (27-1) saw a 27-match win streak end despite 15 kills by sophomore outside hitter Gabriela Griego, 14 plus 23 digs and four aces by sophomore outside hitter Lea Kruse, 12 kills by sophomore middle blocker Kristin Austin, eight kills and 20 digs by sophomore outside hitter Alaina Gendale, and 18 digs from sophomore libero Anna Unke.

Each of the team's last two losses have occurred at the 2018 and 2019 state tournaments. 

Irvine Valley was 75-4 in sets coming into the tourney against all opponents from Southern California, then stumbled at 8-7 in going five sets against all three of their North Region state tourney opponents in North #4 American River (won in five in the quarterfinals), #2 Fresno City (rallied to win in five in semifinals), and #1 Feather River. Ironically, IVC eliminated the 2018 state champ in ARC and the 2016 champion in Fresno. But then it was Feather River taking out the 2017 champ--Irvine Valley.

Nagase, an All-American First Team selection in the regular season, accomplished a triple-double with 10 kills, 39 assists and 27 digs (plus three blocks). Her quick sets and spectacular all-around play was complemented by the big hitting of Tuia and Carnes, who each drove home 16 kills. Thomas was the only FRC player to reach double figures in all three state tourney matches as she slammed 13 kills (and four blocks) while hitting .345.

Irvine Valley tried but had no answer to the block party led by Gott, who had 10 kills and delivered eight blocks. The team totaled 14 block kills to just four by Irvine Valley. Colette Florentin added five blocks while libero Kayla Joyce was her usual steady defensive self on 30 digs. Setter Lauren Ornbaurn added 15 assists and 10 digs.

"Everyone thinks I'm making all these smart decisions when setting, but the reality is that we are loaded with so many big hitters and I just put the ball up there and let them swing," Nagase said. She then talked about the team's only down point of the season when after a 19-match win streak to start the season, FRC lost two matches in a row to Folsom Lake and Cabrillo on the same day. Feather River finished the season on a second major win streak of 16 straight.

"We needed that to happen. It was like this golden egg and we were on a big high, and didn't want to lose the streak. Then after we lost, we really went on a streak of winning sets (38 in a row). Better we lost then and got that out of the way, then it happen here. That's what happened to Irvine Valley. We never wanted that feeling of losing to happen to us again."

Irvine Valley's Austin said, "We went all year, winning matches in three, and then we have all these 5-set matches here. It was crazy. Feather River was a lot of fun to play against, and they were just a little better than us at the end. I think we were seeing different things with the North teams that we hadn't faced vs. the South ones."

Feather River head coach Sarah Ritchie, who has a dynasty in the Golden Valley Conference with 10 consecutive conference titles, reflected on changes she made for herself as a coach.

"It's been a journey," she said. "First, I recruited my ass off to bring in not just players who were talented but were good people. I got some advice from a few coaches I know that maybe I should stop yelling so much and chill out in my approach with players. This group was just a joy to work with at practice every day. I loved how hard they worked to get here and how much fun we had doing it. And I can't thank enough the great team support we received from the City of Quincy, the entire community. So many people came down here to root for us at the state tourney. All of my former assistant coaches flew in from Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii and that meant so much to me."

After Irvine Valley won the opening set, the Lasers were tied at 9-9 in the second set before Feather River went on a 9-1 run en route to a 5-point win to tie the match at 1-1.

In the third set, it was 11-11 when Feather River again went on a sharp 7-1 run.

A Nagase 2-hand placement kill ended another 5-point set win, and a 2-1 sets lead.

In the fourth set, Irvine Valley fought off match point on a kill by Gendale at 24-23.

After Tuai bombed a point for a 26-25 FRC lead, IVC again faced match point, but Austin went on a spree of spikes for three consecutive hammer kills that kept the match going with a 2-point IVC set win. 

Release by Robert Lewis, CCCWVCA SID

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