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Yellowjackets top Bears in D-III debut to advance
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The Hilmar Yellowjackets celebrate after notching a 3-0 win over Merced High on Tuesday night in the first round of the Division-III Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs (EDDIE RUIZ/The Journal).

The Hilmar High Yellowjackets volleyball team made their Division-III debut in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs on Tuesday afternoon from home in a 3-0 sweep over Merced High.

“We have been here before but this time we are in Division-III, and it is much tougher. The girls are bigger and stronger, but we just went out and tried to play our game really,” said Hilmar head coach Patti Harris.

Hilmar, which has an enrollment well under 700, faced a much larger school with enrollment in the thousands, and at one point competed in Division-I.

By the enrollment standards, Hilmar should be Division-VI, but they are not. Due to their success in the SJS D-IV bracket the last half a dozen seasons (reaching the section final), the section decided to move Hilmar up after winning just two straight titles. Sonora was bumped up after winning three (2013-2015)—which is the number needed to earn a berth in a higher division.

In Division-IV, Ripon and Escalon both have the top two seeds. Hilmar beat them both handedly, in both games, not dropping a single set.

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Hilmar’s Sara Chavez goes up for a block during Tuesday’s 3-0 sweep over Merced High in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III playoffs (EDDIE RUIZ/The Journal).

Hilmar was granted the No. 4 seed in the D-III bracket.

In the opening set, Hilmar jumped out to an early 9-3 lead, then kept it within six to seven points.

Merced fought back and Hilmar made over half a dozen mistakes that cost them points and they won the first, 25-22.

In the second, Merced cut the lead to within two points. But Hilmar closed it out with a 2-1 rally to end the second, 25-20.

Hilmar won the third set with the most lopsided score of the night at 25-16.

Hilmar’s Olivia Petersen finished with a team-high 16 kills. Emma Martin added a team high 34 assists while Kayley Souza and Sara Chavez each tallied a block apiece. Julia Gonsalves added three aces and Mikela Labno tallied 14 digs.

Since 2012, the Yellowjackets have advanced to the second round of the SJS playoffs.  From 2013-2018 they reached the Division-IV SJS Championship game. 

The last two years the ‘Jackets won the D-IV title and were bumped up despite the ruling of the three-straight titles. 

Hilmar’s overall record is now 29-10 heading into the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs. 

Next for No. 4 Hilmar is a home match against No. 5 Pioneer at 7 p.m. Thursday.

“Pioneer is coming here and it does get tougher. We did talk about this being a different division, bottom line is it doesn’t matter who you play, you just have to go out and try to play your game and do the best you can when we are out there competing,” Harris added.