By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
In a battle of the state’s best, the Santa Rosa Junior College volleyball team took a late lead to win Wednesday’s match-clinching game over American River.
After forging a tie in Santa Rosa’s seventh attempt, the Bear Cubs finally went ahead on a net ball and won with the next point off a dig the Beavers couldn’t handle. Santa Rosa scored seven of the final ten points in the decisive game to hold off their strongest challenger in the tough Big 8 Conference.
Santa Rosa’s 25-20, 25-18, 13-25, 26-24 victory kept the Bear Cubs undefeated in conference play. Santa Rosa could move past American River in the state rankings — the Bear Cubs were ninth and the Beavers fifth.
“We pushed as hard as we could. For us to be able to beat this team says a lot,” said Megan Johnson, Santa Rosa’s anchor across the floor.
Missing two starters at middle blocker, Santa Rosa still defended well enough to set up the Bear Cubs potent offense. Such depth off the bench will be important in Santa Rosa’s push to win a state title after finishing as a runner-up the past two seasons.
“They are so strong. Against a team like Santa Rosa you’ve got to come out with fire,” said American River coach Ashlie Hain. “But it was nice to get a set. We’re proud how our players fought.”
After a strong start, though, Santa Rosa needed to overcome a third game letdown and fourth game challenge. The Bear Cubs didn’t want the match to come down to a fifth game.
“We knew it would be a tight one. We had to play the best defense we’ve played all year,” said Santa Rosa coach Kelly Wood.
The deciding game had American River passing well and hitting numerous clear winners to take an early lead.
Carrying the momentum from their third-game victory, the Beavers were toughest when Santa Rosa threatened to tie, setting up hitters for kills off Santa Rosa serves.
But pull even Santa Rosa did. A pair of Olivia Urban kills evened the score at 21-21 — the San Marin High hitter had 25 winners on the night. After the Beavers swung around for another kill off a backwards pass, Urban struck again.
After trading points, the teams were last knotted at 24-24. Then the Bear Cubs defense kept pressure on the Beavers at the net, forcing an error and then digging out the winning shot.
Toughest throughout the contest was Johnson. The first year player from outside Bellingham, Wash., played the entire match for the first time this season after being limited by a stress fracture in her left leg.
“I had to go all out. We were playing for first,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s all-around game included 9 kills and 3 blocks. Also playing the entire match was Kaitlyn Dunaway, out of Petaluma High, second on the team with both 14 kills and 11 digs.
Winning without starting middle blockers Kristyn Casalino from Maria Carrillo and Luisa McInnis from Montgomery was another sign Santa Rosa is poised for a third consecutive conference title and deep state playoff run.
The pair suffered concussions in an auto accident Friday. They are expected to return to the court soon, Wood said.
Larissa Goodanetz, from Petaluma High, came off the bench at middle blocker. Kiana Cassidy, out of Rancho Cotate, also played well at the net.
“Everyone just has to step up a little bit more. We are deep,” Wood said.