TURLOCK -- Hard to imagine anything could top the season the Pitman volleyball team enjoyed in 2011.
The Pride not only clinched their first-ever conference championship at the varsity level, the entire program waltzed into the offseason with goodies.
Pitman achieved high school sport's rare triple crown championships at all three levels.
Kristen Pontes was named the Central California Conference's coach of the year for a second straight season, and San Bernardino freshman Ashley Solis was the program's first-ever MVP.
In Hollywood, sequels often fall short of expectation. However, Pitman's encore performance has been just as riveting.
Nearing the final leg of the CCC's triple round-robin format, Pitman (12-1 overall) is in line to repeat its feat. The varsity, junior varsity and freshman teams are a combined 27-0 in CCC matches heading into tonight's showdown with crosstown rival Turlock.
"We had quite a few coming back, so (the Triple Crown) gave those returning players confidence, knowing we can do it," Pontes said. "Before, it always seemed like we would tie with Golden Valley or we were right behind them. It gave us that boost that, 'Yeah, we can do it.' "
Pitman owns a three-game advantage over Atwater (6-3) and Golden Valley (6-3) in the CCC standings.
Maddy Halteman had 24 assists and Lindsey Vander Weide punched out 12 kills as Pitman swept the Falcons on Tuesday, 25-20, 25-18, 25-20. The third round begins next week with road matches in Merced at the Bears (4-5) on Tuesday, at Golden Valley Thursday.
"I told the girls after the first round, this is going to be toughest thing they do," Pontes said. "We're at the top and it's always tougher to be on top. We have to work just as hard as we did in the beginning, and they are. This cushion helps, but we're not taking any team for granted. We're going into every match thinking it's going to be a battle."
More to the point, Pitman goes into every match prepared to face St. Mary's, a 12-time section champion and a tripping point for the the Pride in the D-1 playoffs.
Back-to-back second-round losses to the Stockton superpower have left a lasting impression with Pontes. She's changed her offense, so that it's better suited to compete against the Rams and its home-field advantage. St. Mary's plays in a cozy gymnasium, with a short ceiling. To combat that, Pitman implemented an up-tempo offense with low passes.
"It wasn't that hard to pick up," Halteman said, "but I've worked with the hitters a lot. It just kind of flows out there."
It flows for a reason.
Pontes has created a program that competes year round with the Turlock Crush a club team she co-founded three years ago. A program that studies from the same playbook. And a program that craves victories.
Winning isn't enough for this bunch. The Pride want to dominate the opposition.
Case in point: Pitman won the 16-team Oakdale tournament earlier this season and hasn't been pushed to a fifth game in CCC play.
As for the JV and freshman teams, well
Doubt those kids even know what a third game looks like. Each of their victories has been a quick-and-tidy two games.
"It makes a huge difference in volleyball when they're playing year round and playing tournaments," said Pontes, who coaches the Crush's eighth-grade team, a strategic move that ensures most of Pitman's incoming freshman understand the system in place.
"They're getting all the extra coaching and the extra training."