By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
College volleyball playoffs open today with Santa Rosa Junior College hosting a Nor Cal match in the Bear Cubs’ quest for the state title after finishing second the past two seasons.
Sonoma State is back in the NCAA Division II tournament with the west regionals getting under way Nov. 29 in Hawaii.
Ranked fourth in the state, SRJC went undefeated to take another Big 8 Conference title and rides a 17-match winning streak going into today’s home playoff match with Yuba College. Santa Rosa’s only losses on the season were to Fresno and Feather River, the state’s second- and third-ranked teams.
Runners-up to Los Angeles Pierce in the past two state title matches, Santa Rosa faces another difficult path to the championship.
To advance to the state final four, Santa Rosa likely must get past Feather River. SRJC is seeded third and Feather River second in the Nor Cal regionals. This is the Bear Cubs’ 11th consecutive Nor Cal appearance.
Santa Rosa has worked in a strong group of first-year players to make another playoff run. While the Bear Cubs’ passing and hitting has been a strength, the defense has gained stronger footing critical in the playoffs.
Powering the Santa Rosa offense are outside hitters Olivia Urban, from San Marin High, and Kaitlin Dunaway, out of Petaluma High.
SONOMA STATE VOLLEYBALL
Also back in the playoffs, Sonoma State aims to go even farther than last year’s advance to the West Region title match. While that was the Seawolves’ most successful season ever, Sonoma State is a deeper team heading into the 2012 national tournament.
Winning 11 of their last 13 matches, Sonoma State is playing stronger on offense to complement a sturdy defense. The Seawolves finished in a tie for second place in the California Collegiate Athletic Association. Sonoma State is making its fifth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.
Leading the Seawolves this season is senior outside hitter Ally Sather, from Maria Carrillo High, who became the school’s all-time kills leader. Junior libero Nicole Gragnola anchors the Seawolves’ defense.
To make another strong NCAA tournament run, Sonoma State must get past Western Washington, ranked 15th in the nation. Sonoma State is ranked sixth in the west and is just out of the national poll.
Sonoma State lost to Western Washington in an early season encounter. But the young Seawolves have improved since that September meeting in Rohnert Park.