It certainly didn’t take long for the volleyball season to feel like it was in full swing on Thursday night. The first set in the first league game turned out to be a stand alone thriller.
The Santa Clara Bruins — led by seniors Fiona Paul and Bianca Blandford — took on their rival Wilcox Chargers — led by juniors Elise Corwin and Deena Pederson — in a thrilling, back-and-forth first set that had the large crowd gathered inside the Bruins’ gym hanging on every bump, set and spike.
Both teams were solid to start as neither led by more than four points early on. Bruins juniors Kayla Chew and Alysse Heller impressed with four kills between them, but a powerful kill from Chargers sophomore Amanda McDowell tied things up at 14. McDowell’s impressive spike was part of a 9-0 Chargers run, going from down 14-12 to up 21-14.
Just when one thought the Chargers were going to run away with the set, the Bruins came clawing back. Paul broke the Chargers’ streak with a hard kill off the net to pull within 21-15. Paul followed up with a service ace before deft changeup kills from Chew and Blandford helped inch the Bruins closer.
Libero Lexi Da Silva added to the Santa Clara comeback with an impressive diving dig and a kill of her own to pull the Bruins within 23-22. With Santa Clara facing set point at 24-22, senior Madison Kohls came up with an amazing dig while nearly running into her own bench. Santa Clara would win the point to keep the set going.
With the Bruins still facing set point by the Chargers, it appeared like Wilcox may have won the set, but a net violation was ruled in favor of Santa Clara. Just like that, it was tied up at 24. The Bruins would go up 26-25 after another impressive dig by Da Silva and tough kill on a ball floating down right at the net by Blandford.
A couple of unforced Bruins errors followed to put the Chargers up 27-26. At that point a savvy, two-handed, change-of-direction shot from Paul tied things back up at 27. The Bruins star would add one more kill to put the Bruins at set point.
The following Bruins service deflected off a Chargers player’s fingers to give the Bruins a 29-27 opening-set win.
Wilcox would bounce back to take the next two sets rather easily at 25-12 and 25-11. Strong kills from Pederson, McDowell and senior Ella Jevtic led the way. The Chargers also benefited from some unforced Bruin errors. Santa Clara appeared to correct those mistakes in the fourth set.
The fourth would mirror the first, going down to the wire. Neither team led by more than three points, but the Chargers rallied from down 22-19 to go up 24-22, a 5-0 run. Santa Clara answered back with a deft kill by senior Bella Tamone. On the next point Chew added another changeup-like shot to tie the set at 24-24.
After a service error gave the Chargers a one-point lead, Wilcox would end the game with a kill, winning the set 26-24 and the game 3-1.
“At the beginning we were all pretty nervous, including myself,” chimed Corwin. “Santa Clara, our rivals, first league match, the nerves were getting the best of us. But in the second set I think we realized we could be better. My sets got more controlled and our hits were also more under control. We worked as a team and we were able to pull it out in the fourth set.”
“I noticed when we start losing energy is when we start losing points,” remarked Paul. “I try to guide the team to keep the energy up because that’s when we do better when we’re all screaming, there’s momentum and we’re going for every ball. It’s just obvious when that decreases, our game falls off.”
Santa Clara will have almost a full season of matches to prepare for the Wilcox rematch, which will be the season finale on Oct. 23.