Delhi and Denair High have searched for the same thing all season — Southern Athletic League victory.
The Hawks and Coyotes have had mixed results on their respective quests, but on Thursday, in the first match up between the two schools this season, one team was guaranteed to walk off the court with a win.
It took four sets to complete the task, but when it was all said and done it was Delhi who emerged victorious 3-1 (25-20, 25-13, 21-25, 25-23) for their first win of the season, SAL or otherwise.
“I think we did a great job, especially considering we had three sophomores on the court. I think they definitely stepped up to the challenge,” Delhi head coach Lauren Ruell said. “There's always room to improve, obviously, but I'm proud of them.”
Though they were facing an opponent that mirrored their success in league, the Hawks entered Thursday's match with cause for concern as four of their players were rendered inactive for various reasons. Word of the short-handed roster reached Ruell as the team loaded onto the bus, forcing her to face the Coyotes with a total of six girls.
“There's no excuses, there's no time for them to not be ready,” Ruell said of her message to her team.
Though its girls were outnumbered, Delhi asserted its dominance early in the first set as it jumped out to a ten point lead with the score at 17-7. The Hawks looked to be on their way to a lopsided set win, but an inability to finish — a recurring trend through the match — allowed Denair to come roaring back and nearly overtake its league opponent.
“I am very proud of them tonight. We have been struggling lately and they gave it all that they got and they played well,” Denair head coach Courtney Nutcher said.
Delhi's second set win was much more comfortable as its girls cruised to victory by letting Denair commit mistakes, but the tide turned quickly in the third set. The Coyotes began to cover the court more effectively and cut down on unforced errors as they went on five and six point runs to take a 24-17 lead. Though they trailed by nine points, the Hawks battled match point six time before finally dropping the third set.
It was Denair's first set win in SAL play.
“They were covering the court better than they ever have,” Nutcher said. “I do feel it's the first step to winning more games this season. And I know it's only one set that we've won, but I think it's going to help us and motivate them now because they know that they can do it.”
“I think we, in general, we have a hard time finishing games and we don't really know how to finish the games. So I thought the biggest challenge in that game was having the confidence to finish,” Ruell said of the third set.
Motivated by their third-set win, the Coyotes played their best volleyball in the fourth set as they and the Hawks traded shots back and forth. The two teams played within a couple of points of each other for the majority of the match, tying the game five times before knotting the score at 23-23. Unlike in the previous match, however, Delhi has no trouble finishing the fourth to earn their place in the winner's column.
“I feel like this team just needed a win to kind of take that winning path,” Ruell said.
Bianca Escobedo emerged as the leading Hawk on the night with 8 kills and 10 digs while Isabel Barboza recorded 9 aces and Veronica Garzin pitched in with 13 assists.
As for Denair, Tori Lewellen finished the night with 7 kills and 13 digs, Heidi Johnson finished with 11 assists, and Taryn Fletcher recorded 6 aces.
The Coyotes continue their SAL season with a home match against Mariposa County High on Tuesday while the Hawks host Ripon Christian High.
“We have all players back on Monday, so everybody's competing for a starting spot again,” Ruell said.