Sierra penned a new chapter to its history books on Tuesday, while knocking off a program that is no stranger to success.
Seeded No. 2 for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs, the Timberwolves swept No. 15 Hilmar 25-13, 25-22, 24-17 to earn their first-ever postseason victory. They host No. 10 Lincoln of Placer County in the quarterfinals on Thursday and are one win away from clinching a spot in the California Interscholastic Federation NorCal Regionals for the first time.
“They played very well,” Sierra coach Kim Ellis said. “We’ve been focusing on starting out strong and not having that warm-up game that we’ve been tending to lean towards. They came out very strong. They’re super pumped, they’re very driven and ready to work hard to have a solid finish to the season.”
Sierra, now 24-4, is coming off its first Valley Oak League championship. By contrast, Hilmar has a long history of winning but is rebuilding with young talent.
The disparity in experience was evident at the start, as Hilmar (11-15) committed eight unforced errors while digging itself a 12-3 hole. The Yellowjackets, who start three underclassmen, played well in spurts after the lopsided opening set, but coach Patti Harris said it was another good learning experience for her battle-tested team that routinely gets stiff competition in the Trans-Valley League.
Hilmar made six straight SJS final-round appearances in Division IV from 2013-18, winning the last two and getting bumped up to Division III because of the “continued success” rule.
“We play tough teams all season long — we always have a tough schedule,” Harris said. “You want to push your athletes to learn, and the best way to learn is to play hard teams. We’re a very young team, and I’m only losing one senior who plays. I’m looking forward to next year.”
Although Sierra was gifted points at the outset, it eventually got on a roll and took a 20-7 lead. Zoe Kossart had multiple kills, standout setter Rebecca Thomson scored on a well-placed dump and Sophia Marian added a service ace during an 8-2 run that got the Timberwolves to that point.
“We’ve seen all kinds of teams,” Harris said. “They’re a great team and they play very quick on offense. It was good to see that, and we have seen that all year. I thought we did a good job, all things considered. We had moments.”
Hilmar did well to stay in the fight in the second set, even taking a 21-20 lead on Alicia Souza’s kill.
The Timberwolves took over from there, getting a kill from Elaina Threet, three from Marian and another dump from Thomson.
The third set was all Sierra, which broke away with a 9-1 flurry for a 21-11 lead.
Kossart spearheaded the balanced Timberwolves with six kills, eight digs and two aces. Thomson finished with 32 assists, three kills, four digs and two aces. Libero Jenna Dalen had 21 digs and four aces. Threet contributed seven blocks to go with three kills and four digs.
Hilmar was paced by Souza’s 12 kills. Freshman setter Stella Pires dished out 20 assists, and sophomore libero Sophie Stivers chipped in 10 digs.
Ellis said the team is looking forward to another home match for the postseason. Lincoln stunned No. 7 Vanden in five sets, 25-13, 23-25, 25-22, 20-25, 15-7.
“Having our fans in the stands is amazing,” Ellis said. “We’re always very grateful for everybody that shows up to support us. The girls get to have their normal warmup routine and are in their comfort zone, so it just makes it more fun.”