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Pitman headed to State finals
Pride defeat Bears for Nor Cal championship
pitman volley pic1
Yisel Perez celebrates with teammates and fans after Pitmans Nor Cal championship victory over Menlo-Atherton on Tuesday. - photo by EDDIE RUIZ / The Journal

It was a Tuesday-night thriller when Menlo-Atherton High traveled to Pitman High’s home court for the CIF Division I Nor Cal finals in a showdown of champions.

The Pride (44-1 Overall) entered the match as reigning title holders of the Central California Conference and the Sac-Joaquin Section. The Bears (30-4 Overall) entered as the reigning title holders of the Peninsula Athletic League and Central Coast Section. Ranked 16th and 13th in California, respectively, both Pitman and Menlo-Atherton were playing to win the first Nor Cal championship in school history—but only one could walk away with the title.

It took five games to determine the winner, but when it was all said and done, it was the Pride who emerged victorious, 3-2.

“It’s beyond words,” Pitman head coach Kristen Pontes-Christian said. “Not only to have a section championship, but to have a Nor Cal championship is huge.”

“It is the greatest feeling in the world. I knew our team would do that if we played our hardest and our best. And it’s just the greatest feeling to know that we’re the first ever team in Turlock to go this far,” Lindsey Vander Weide said.

It was clear from the first game that Tuesday would be a long night. After leading for half the game, Pitman watched as Menlo-Atherton knotted the score at 17 points apiece. With the match’s momentum on the line, the Pride and Bears found themselves tied 24-24 and proceeded to trade points, shot for shot, until the Bears finally managed to get a shot past Vander Weide for the 27-29 victory.

“It was their outside hitters and their right side that tested us. We had to be on our game 100 percent. They were just overall a good team,” Ashleigh Phelps said. “Their defense was good. We couldn’t just hit and think it was a kill.”

Menlo-Atherton continued its trend of picking up power shots with excellent court coverage in the second game as the trio of Devin Joos, Ally Ostrow and Alexa Roumeliotis energized their fans with solid defensive play. Pitman again found itself tied late in the second game at the 18th point, except this time its ladies edged out the Bears with a 7-5 run for the 25-23 win.

While the first two games were close and exciting, the third game proved to be riddled with miscommunication as Pitman found itself out of position and visibly frustrated. Consistent kills from Joos and a handful of errors from the Pride led to a 17-25 third-set loss. After having accomplished so much, the Pride were in danger of having their season ended.

“We knew they were going to be a tough team. And when we were down 2-1 I knew, I knew in my heart that we were going to win that game,” Vander Weide said of her mentality entering the fourth game.

Pitman returned to form and played it tight with Menlo-Atherton until the Bears managed to pull ahead with a 15-20 lead. With their season on the line, the Pride turned to the core of Vander Weide, Whitney Barnes, Maddy Halteman, Yisel Perez and Stephanie Simmons and orchestrated a 10-3 run to take game four, 25-23, and push the match into a fifth game. The fourth-game win sent Pitman’s stands into hysterics and silenced Bears supporters. The stage was set for a champion to be crowned in dramatic fashion.

“It was all heart that game. They had some great saves on their side, we had some great saves on our side, and they just wanted it more. So I’m really proud of them,” Pontes-Christian said. “We had been focusing on a few spots on the court and hitting those spots. I told them what was on the line.”

“We fought the whole way and we played with heart,” Vander Weide said.

Things looked bleak for Pitman in the fifth game as the Bears took an early 3-6 lead, but following a time out Pitman went on a five-point run to move ahead its opponents on the scoreboard. The Bears knotted the score once again at 12 points apiece thanks to a scoring play from Joos, but back-to-back points from Madison King and Halteman erased any hope the Bears had at the Nor Cal championship as Pitman took the fifth game 15-12.

“We had to start strong. We had to get the momentum going from the beginning, and that’s exactly what we did, and we carried it all the way until the end,” Vander Weide said of her team’s effort in the fifth game.

“I think we just had so much energy. We just pulled ourselves together and we did it, we became champions,” Halteman said. “There’s no words to describe how happy I am for my team right now. We deserve it so much and I’m so proud of us.”

Vander Weide finished the night with 20 kills, 15 digs and one ace. Halteman finished with 29 assists and three blocks. Yisel Perez notched 11 kills, Barnes recorded six blocks and Phelps tallied 9 digs.

Menlo-Atherton’s Joos finished with 23 kills and 27 digs while Ostrow finished with 22 kills and Roumeliotis finished with 21 digs.

Pitman is now set to play in the CIF Division I State championship game against Redondo Union High, ranked third in California, on Saturday in Orange, California. If the Pride win they will lay claim to Pitman’s first State championship in school history, but win or lose, they still stand alone as the school’s most successful athletic team to date.

“We’ve had some great success at Pitman but this season is just outstanding,” Pontes-Christian said. “So Cal is a totally different world with volleyball, so it’s going to be tough. We’re going to have to play all out from beginning to end and we’re going to have to want it.”

“We’re coming into this game not knowing anything about the team, and we’re expecting the best,” Phelps said. “It would just be unreal if we were champions. This is the farthest we’ve ever gone and we’re just making history.”