Pitman High volleyball has been synonymous with dominance in 2014. The Pride steamrolled nearly every opponent they faced this season with its combination of size, power and speed. And when a team rose to the occasion to provide Pitman with a challenge, its girls seemed to persevere through sheer force of will.
The recipe was good enough for the best single-season performance in Pitman athletics history — complete with Central California Conference, Sac-Joaquin Section and NorCal titles — and an appearance in the finals of the CIF Division I State Volleyball Championships against Redondo Union High on Saturday.
But Pitman's typical size advantage was negated when it stepped onto the court with the Sea Hawks. And once the match began, it was apparent that Redondo Union's power and speed were more than comparable to the Pride's. For only the second time this season, Pitman couldn't match its opponent as its girls were overwhelmed and defeated in straight-sets, 23-25, 18-25 and 21-25.
“They were being really quick and really consistent. And we’re a quick team, but they were keeping the quickness every single play. No matter what, if they had a bad pass they were still running a quick play,” Lindsey Vander Weide said.
“We did play as hard as we could and we tried to pull through, we just couldn’t do it,” Whitney Barnes said.
Pitman's best game was undoubtedly the first of the night. After playing point-for-point and knotting the score at 12 points apiece, Pitman went on an 8-4 run and looked to be on its way to a tone-setting victory with the score at 20-16. But instead of closing out the game, the Pride allowed six unanswered points from the Sea Hawks in what became a 9-3 comeback run to take game one.
“They had such a great offense. They had great hitters, great weapons, they found the court. We didn’t adjust quick enough, and that first set is where we went wrong,” Pitman head coach Kristen Pontes-Christian said. “We needed to win that first set, that first game. Up four and we let them come back, and I think that’s where we lost confidence. We had that game and it would have been a game changer had we won.”
“We let them come back and we made our own mistakes,” She added.
Redondo Union continued to stymie the Pride in the second game with its quick-set attack that featured Kristen Hamlin and Yassmee Bedart-Ghani. The two Sea Hawk hitters consistently took advantage of Pitman's inability to close the block and put the Pride in the trail position for the entirety of game two, chipping away at Pitman's state hopes with each kill.
“They came out swinging and we just couldn’t get our block up. They were ready,” Madison King said.
“Our blockers were not getting there quick enough and then our defense wasn’t able to set up behind them, so we were just a second late on everything. So that hurt us tonight,” Pontes-Christian said.
The beginning of the third game closely followed the script of the second as multiple kills from Bedart-Chani and several aces from Norene Iosia gave Redondo Union a sizable lead. But unlike the second game, Pitman managed to orchestrate a late-game run, scoring five unanswered points to make it 21-22. Vander Weide led the charge with multiple kills and a pair of crucial blocks as Pitman attempted to force a fourth game, but the effort ultimately wasn't enough to prevent the loss and a second-place state finish.
Bedart-Ghani and Hamlin led Redondo Union with 16 and 15 kills, respectively, and Iosia finished with 40 assists.
Vander Weide finished the night with 14 kills and Maddy Halteman notched 29 assists.
Though they were certainly disappointed with the outcome, the Pride chose to celebrate their season rather than weep over the loss.
“We went so much farther than I ever anticipated or expected. Unbelievable season,” Pontes-Christian said. “Again, to make it to state from Turlock, little old Turlock, is huge.”
Pitman ends the 2014 season with an overall record of 44-2. Both of its losses came at the hands of state champions — Archbishop Mitty High and Redondo Union.
“I’m so proud of my team that we came this far and played with so much heart,” Vander Weide said.
“We are just so proud of how far we’ve come. We made history for our school, and not only our school but for Turlock, and we’re just so happy,” King said.
Pitman will graduate eight seniors by next season, including Vander Weide and Halteman, but will return a core of players with significant experience on the court, including Yisel Perez, Erika Rodriguez and Barnes. Though the Pride will enter next season without the proven weapons that made their historic 2014 season possible, head coach Pontes-Christain believes this season's success will be a launching point for future milestones.
“We’ve been to NorCals and we’ve done the section championship, I think it almost gives us more desire and motivation to come back,” Pontes-Christian said. “I’m not saying it’s going to happen every season, but I know that we have a talented group next year and our focus is not only going to be to make it to section, but to keep making it to NorCal and hopefully to state.”