ESCALON -- Escalon High has a lot of weapons in its girls' volleyball arsenal. Intimidation is not one of them.
The Cougars take the court with no player taller than 5-feet, 10-inches, and then they go out and beat everyone in their path, as they did in Tuesday night's Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 opener a 25-20, 25-14, 27-25 sweep of Calaveras.
"We're one of the shortest teams out there, but we do have some hops," said senior middle hitter Adalia Cajias, the lone Cougar listed within two inches of six feet. "We're just playing so much like a team and playing great as a team, with communication and leadership. When you play like that, you can do anything."
Escalon swept through a perfect Trans-Valley League season to earn the No. 1 seed, and improved to 24-5 overall. On Thursday they'll host the winner of the Union Mine-Argonaut match, which could bring the Cougars one step closer to their first section title match since 1998.
Calaveras (17-14) notched its fifth straight winning season, but now has bowed out in the first round of the playoffs in its last six appearances, with each loss coming via sweep.
The Redskins were strong through the final point, and had a chance to take the match to a fourth game by building a 23-20 lead in the third game. The Cougars held off two game points to forge a 25-25 tie, then watched Calaveras commit unforced errors on the match's final two points.
And that might be the difference between Escalon and the teams it has defeated the reason the Cougars have been able to overcome their height deficit. They don't lose big points.
"That's the leadership from the captains," said coach Teresa Williamson. "There's no let-down game from them.
"This is one of the best all-around teams I've had as far as being good on and off the court. They have a great chemistry and they enjoy the game. As a coach you hope for players with heart and all 15 of these girls have that."
The heart of the team was tested early as Calaveras used a 7-2 spurt to take a 9-8 lead in the first game. Twice during that run Escalon players collided during a set, and Williamson called timeout to settle her team.
"I was a little nervous to start," Cajias said. "But I'm happy with the outcome and it gives me a good feeling about the rest of the playoffs. When we get momentum, it's hard to take it away from us."
The Cougars won 10 of the next 13 points to take control of the first game, then rolled to a 13-3 lead in the second game.
Calaveras finally was able to get the ball to outside hitters Brianna McGinness and Dakota Butzler in the third game, which put it in position to extend the match. But when the Redskins frittered away the final two points, the Cougars were left standing feeling taller than their actual height.
"Everybody is bigger than us," Williamson said. "We're a defensive team, quick and scrappy. Even though we don't have the height at the net, the players have a drive for the game, which overcomes a lot of big hitters."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2150. Follow him at twitter.com/modestobeek.