The inaugural season for the Hilmar varsity boys volleyball team came to a close on Thursday afternoon at Manteca High after the Yellowjackets were ousted in the second round of the postseason, 3-0.
Hilmar was coming off a 3-0 sweep over Lodi Academy in the opening round of the Division-III Sac-Joaquin Section tournament on Tuesday but couldn’t repeat the same performance against the No. 4 seed Manteca Buffaloes.
Seeded at No. 5, the ‘Jackets battled the best they could against a much taller squad in Manteca, and despite nearly winning the second set, they fell in straight sets, 25-18, 28-26 and 25-9.
“I was just telling the kids that I couldn’t be a prouder coach,” said Hilmar head coach Kristen Jones. “When we first started the program, we didn’t think we could get very far, we just thought we were building the foundation and I always said that.”
They did more than build a foundation, they set a high standard for a program that was just brought to life this season.
With the help of volunteer coaches and a herd of support from the administration to the community and students and parents, the team flourished in ways that many didn’t see coming.
They went on to win 25 games and lost just 10 in their first year, winning the TVL.
“…to get into the second round of playoffs, I mean… it was a dream and we made that dream a reality,” said Jones.
They also won the Sierra Tournament in mid-March, finally catching some attention from local programs and beginning their successful run into the second round of the playoffs.
“I feel it was a big progression, but the big turnaround was that Sierra Tournament when we took first and beat Patterson in three and Kimball in three,” said Jones. “After that day, we just saw a shift and won few games in a row and started to see their progression.”
Prior to Thursday’s loss, the ‘Jackets had won eight straight, including six in straight sets.
Against Lodi Academy on Tuesday, Hilmar had very little difficulty in their first playoff match for the school’s program.
They won every set by 10 or more points and felt some confidence heading into Thursday’s contest on the road.
However, just prior to the start, the nerves began to kick in.
“We knew coming in we were the underdogs and (it was) a lot of pressure,” said Jones. “The kids wanted to bring the blue and wanted to show everyone that they have worked so hard. They were not nervous until the first game started and we were in the huddle and I saw it in their faces.”
Hilmar trailed for most of the first and eventually lost the first set by seven points before they began to play a higher pace of ball in the second.
“We seemed to be more strategic and passing was great in the first set and second game as well, (it) was the best ball they played all season,” said Jones.
Hilmar took it to Manteca in the second set, taking an early 5-1 lead and maintaining their composure as the momentum swung back and forth for both sides.
Up 24-23, all looked well for Hilmar until a timeout killed their momentum and Manteca closed out the set with a 4-2 run.
“Unfortunately, we fell short in the third game as well and had some calls not go our way and the kids got into their heads and went downhill from there,” said Jones. “It’s the nature of the game, very up and down, we lost the momentum in that third game. It happens, doesn’t make me any less proud of this team and the community support, many people drove up here.”