The Modesto High volleyball team won the Modesto Metro Conference thanks to a deep roster that was able to get solid play from anybody on the floor.
But in the Panthers' Sac-Joaquin Section Division I first-round playoff match against Folsom on Tuesday night, that championship team didn't show up nearly as much as Modesto would have liked.
There were flashes, especially in the Panthers' dominant Game 3 win, but ultimately Folsom's superior height and stellar play by setter Jillian Kinsala led to a 25-19, 25-19, 18-25, 25-15 Bulldogs victory at Panther Palace.
No. 10 seed Folsom (21-7) next plays at home against No. 15 seed Merced, a four-game upset winner over No. 2 Rodriguez. No. 7 Modesto's season is over at 22-4.
The Bulldogs kept Modesto off-balance by going to 6-foot-2 middle Kaci Miller, who pounded kills with little resistance from Modesto's side.
"They had a hard time defending the middle," Folsom coach Cinnamon DaSilva said. "It opened things up for the rest of our offense."
That was especially true in the first two games, where the Bulldogs controlled the net for much of the time.
"Their middle hurt us," Modesto coach Adrienne Uecker said. "We caught on by the third and fourth games, but by then it was too late."
The Panthers had their moments, most of them coming in the third game.
Modesto setter Karen Wall (22 assists) received good passes and was able to set all over the net. Junior middle hitter Heather Sinclair led the Panthers with nine kills, but nearly every Modesto player made plays in the third game.
"The third game, that's the volleyball we usually play," Wall said. "It's what we've done all year."
Uecker, in her first year as Modesto's coach, said watching Modesto's play during the third game was "frustrating, because we finally showed what we could do."
"I don't know if we had some nerves early, but it wasn't our game," Uecker said. "But we had some amazing moments in the third game.
"It's really tough, because had we played our game, I feel we could've won this match."
Instead, the Panthers will remember the school's first-ever volleyball league championship, a perfect 15-0 slate in conference play to boot.
"This was a learning experience," said Wall, one nine underclassmen on the roster. "Hopefully we build on this toward next year."
Bee staff writer Will DeBoard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.