Pitman High volleyball etched a place for itself in Sac-Joaquin Section history Friday night with its first ever Division I championship victory.
The Pride – who waged a nearly flawless regular season campaign and entered the CIF Division I SJS tournament as the number one seed – took on second seed Pleasant Grove High in a battle for a blue banner at the Pavilion on the campus of UC Davis. After five hard-fought games, the Pride ensured that 2014 would forever be remembered as the year of Pitman volleyball with a 3-2 win over the Eagles.
“I can’t even explain the feeling. It’s beyond words,” Pitman head coach Kristen Pontes-Christian said. “This senior class is so special. I’m so glad that they were able to experience this. And it great for the younger girls to see, too, so that it’s inspiration and motivation to get back here next year.”
Though they entered the Division I finale as the clear favorite, the Pride had their hands full with the girls of Pleasant Grove from the onset of the match. Pitman got its first glance at the Eagles’ resolve in the first game of the night when they orchestrated a 10-2 run to take a 18-17 lead – their first lead of the night. Pitman quashed the comeback with the help of the hard-hitting Lindsey Vander Weide and won the game 25-20, but the Eagles’ surge was only a sign of things to come.
“We knew it was going to be a battle; we knew it was going to be a fight the whole time. I knew, personally, that it wasn’t going to be an easy three games,” Vander Weide said.
The second game proved to be the most competitive of the night as the teams traded kill shots back-and-forth and knotted the score 12 times. Pleasant Grove took the second game, 22-25, before continuing its streak of success on the court with a 23-25 third-game win. For only the second time all year, Pitman was in the hole, down two games.
“I would say it was the most intense match, for sure,” Vander Weide said.
With their title hopes on the line, the Pride found their footing in the fourth set and earned their most convincing victory of the night, 25-15.
“I reminded them what was on the line,” Pontes-Christian said of her message prior to the fourth game.
“We came together as one and we just got it done. We didn’t get down on each other; we just kept it positive,” Whitney Barnes said.
Pleasant Grove was visibly frustrated after the fourth-set loss, and that frustration continued to build as Pitman built a cushioned lead to make it 14-10. Though the Eagles battled match-point twice, a Vander Weide kill shot was all that was needed to cement the Pride’s 15-12 victory and bring home their first section championship win.
“They didn’t give up. The battled but, you know what, we fought back and we battled even harder,” Pontes-Christian said of the opposition. “Going into the fifth game, that momentum from the fourth game led us.”
“It feels great. We’ve been working all season for this and I know our team wasn’t going to just let this go in the last match. Even though we were down 2-1 I knew we were going to come back because we worked so hard all season to get here,” Vander Weide said.
With Friday’s win, Pitman extended its record to 41-1.
Vander Weide finished the night with 28 kills, 21 digs and 3 blocks. Maddy Halteman recorded 56 assists. Barnes finished the night with 3 blocks while Ashleigh Phelps and Lauren Solis pitched in with 20 and 21 digs, respectively. Madison King also had a productive night with 10 kills.
“It feels amazing because this team has worked so hard for this. This is the hardest working team I know and we deserve it more than anything,” Vander Weide said.
“It means the world. These girls are amazing and I’m glad I get to share this with them,” Barnes said.
“I’m so proud of them, I’m so proud of the program and I’m proud of what’s going to happen in the future. Because I know we’re going to keep going,” Pontes-Christian said. “It’s a testament to all the hard work and dedication, not only by the coaches but by the players. I look at as we did it for every Pitman Pride volleyball alumni players.”
Now, the Pride will wait until Sunday’s announcement of the Northern California State Volleyball Tournament bracket.