By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
TC ready to open eyes in volleyball playoffs
Pitman grabs No. 3 seed in Division I bracket
TC volleyball
The Turlock Christian Eagles (8-17) claimed the No. 9 seed in the Division VI playoff bracket and are looking to realize an underdog story to the title with hard work and perseverance (Photo contributed).

Monique Riley expected this.

The Turlock Christian volleyball coach knew that if her Eagles qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs, they would need to be mentally tough, in addition to being physically prepared.

Now that the Eagles (8-17) are in — they claimed the No. 9 seed Division VI and will have to win a play-in game against No. 8 Don Pedro just to earn the right to face No. 1 Forest Lake Christian — Riley is confident that her team is ready.

TC volleyball 2
TC coach Monique Riley in 2014 with Eagles ball girl Shianne Sai, the setter on this year’s team (Photo contributed).

“We do a lot of exercises,” said Riley, who graduated from TC in 2014 after helping the Eagles win a pair of Sac-Joaquin Section banners. “For instance, we run for 15 minutes then go into a two-minute plank. If anybody drops the plank, we start the drill over. Pressure drills like that.”

Another drill favored by Riley is to give each player one chance to serve a ball over the net.

Easy, right? Wrong.

Each and every player has to serve successfully to avoid running. If five out of 10 players fail to do so, it’s five laps — for everybody — and they have to start the drill again. If nine out of 10 players serve successfully, and the last one fails, it’s one lap for the team, and they have to start over again. Only a perfect run-through will avoid laps.

“At the beginning of the year, we’d run for an hour and a half,” said Riley. “Now, we get it on the first try.”

Turlock Christian had to deal with more than practice pressure last week. The Eagles needed to win their last two games just to reach the play-in game. They beat Jim Elliot 3-1 then topped Millennium 3-0.

Mental toughness will be necessary since, as the No. 9 seed, they will always be the road team, no matter how far they advance.

The Eagles, with just one senior on the roster, will rely heavily on a trio of juniors: setter Shianne Sai, outside hitter Christie Monez and middle blocker Roxie Spycher,

“I knew it was a building year for TC,” said Riley. “The girls, for last month, have exceeded my expectations, and then some. They’re really grown. I think we’re ready and have a chance to win it.”

TC will play on Tuesday at 7 p.m., but is petitioning the Sac-Joaquin Section to have the game played on Monday due to FFA scheduling conflicts.

Division I — Pitman High (28-2) was awarded the No. 3 seed and will host No. 14 West (Tracy) on Tuesday. The Pride is in the same half of the bracket as No. 2 Oak Ridge, the reigning section champion.

“We’re excited about our seed and getting through the tournament one game at a time,” said Pitman coach Kristen Pontes-Christian. “That’s our philosophy.”

That approach worked for the Pride in 2014-16 when they won three consecutive D-I crowns. During the 2015 and 2016 tournaments, Pitman knocked off top-seeded Oak Grove both times.

St. Mary’s (Stockton) was given the top seed and will take on the winner of the D-I play-in game between No. 16 Edison (Stockton) and No. 17 Armijo (Fairfield).

Turlock, meanwhile, just missed out on hosting a first-round game. As the No. 9 seed, the Bulldogs (17-11) will take to the road to face No. 8 Davis (Yolo).

“I totally thought we would be 10th or 11th,” said Turlock coach Amber Lugo. “I am comfortable with our seed. Let’s go.”

The Bulldogs won the 2017 championship as a No. 3 seed.

A win Tuesday would advance Turlock into a showdown with top-seeded St. Mary’s (22-7).

Division IV — Hilmar (11-14) garnered the No. 15 seed and just avoided the dreaded play-in game. The Yellowjackets will travel to play No. 2 Sierra (Manteca), a school more than twice the size of Hilmar.

The Yellowjackets played in six consecutive D-IV finals between 2013 and 2018, losing four in a row before winning back-to-back banners the final two years of that run.