Emily Joseph capitalized on a poor pass by the defense, sending the Gregori volleyball team into the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I Tournament with a booming spike.
The Jaguars will face top-seeded St. Francis Thursday at 5 p.m. The match was originally scheduled for a 7 o’clock, but the Troubadors, a 12-time champion, requested an early start because their gym was reserved for another event.
Eighth-seeded Gregori could have used the extra time after Tuesday’s 25-20, 25-15, 19-25, 25-22 victory over No. 9 West.
Senior setter Alyssa Bartlett suffered a scary ankle injury in Game 1. She rolled her right ankle under the net and writhed in pain as athletic director Jim Davis and father and coach John Bartlett assessed the severity of the sprain.
Alyssa Bartlett finished the match with a noticeable limp and limited mobility, but she remained the maestro in the Jaguars’ attack. She had a quick set to talented sophomore Bianca Dowlett to make it 23-20, and the finished out the first game from the service line.
“When it’s the first game, it’s really scary,” said coach Bartlett, also her father. “Between her and Emily, those are two potential league MVPs. She’s rolled it before, so I knew she would try to play through it.”
Alyssa began the second set on the trainer’s table. Her weakened ankle required tape and a brace. West took advantage, seizing its first lead of the match.
It was short-lived.
Alyssa returned to the floor and Gregori promptly went on a 17-5 run to take control of the second game. The passing was precise, each ball putting the hobbled setter in position to run the offense.
Dowlett had two aces early in the run, including a knuckling serve that fooled the Wolf Pack. Fiona Currie found space on the floor with a tip, and Joseph put Gregori in position for the sweep with a thunderous kill.
“That was some of the best passing we’ve had all season,” coach Bartlett said. “Our serve-receive has been our Achilles’ heel. It’s what has killed us this season. But the rest of the girls really stepped up and did a good job supporting (Alyssa).”
West (28-11) didn’t go away quietly.
The Wolf Pack trailed 16-15 in the third set, but closed on a 10-3 run to extend their season.
“They’re a really good team,” coach Bartlett said, “but I thought we did a good job of blocking their 6-foot-3 middle (Shkhinah Tindsley). Making her tip the ball is huge, and we did a great job of blocking and covering those tips.”
Joseph punched Gregori’s ticket with her power from the poles. One of the top players in the Stanislaus District the last three seasons, Joseph shouldered the load in the fourth game. After West called a timeout trailing 22-19, Joseph had one message for the huddle: Finish.
The Jaguars followed her lead.
Joseph blistered a ball down the line and down the middle before pouncing on Tindsley’s mistake. Joseph and Dowlett led the Gregori attack with 16 kills apiece.
Coach Bartlett commended his team for keeping their composure after West regained momentum.
“We’ve done it all year,” he said. “We’ve gone five sets with Beyer. We’ve gone five sets with Modesto and Enochs. They know they can dig deep late in games. This group, they never give up.”
St. Francis (31-7) swept No. 16 Kennedy Tuesday and will be the prohibitive favorite against the Jaguars (31-8), the Modesto Metro Conference’s three-time defending champion.
Gregori has won 30 matches for the first time in four seasons and third time in program history, but will it be enough to spin the Division I tournament on its axis? Coach Bartlett knows his team’s chances of springing the upset are greatly enhanced if his daughter, a St. Martin’s University (Washington) commit, is healthy.
Alyssa had 34 assists and four aces.
Dowlett also had four aces, while Mara Semone, another sophomore, sparked the defense with 18 digs.
“Hopefully, she’s feeling better. I know there’s going to be some swelling,” he said. “When she’s in front of the net and jump-setting, it holds the other team’s block. “We’ve got a good enough defense and one of the best offenses around … if she’s healthy. I know she’ll play regardless, that’s just who she is.”
Beyer 3, Oakdale 0: Olivia Keller had 22 kills and three blocks as the Patriots swept the Mustangs, 25-23, 25-15, 25-17.
Cathryn Starck chipped in 18 kills, Emma Gonzalez dished out 35 assists, and Camryn Wong had 17 digs for Beyer, now 24-7. The Patriots travel to top-seeded Sonora on Thursday. The Wildcats swept American Canyon.
Central Catholic 3, Orestimba 1: Melissa Zanotto had 15 assists and four aces, while Ambria Schneringer had 17 kills for the Raiders, who rallied past the Southern League champs. Orestimba took the first game, but couldn’t keep pace with Central Catholic in a 15-25, 25-16, 25-17, 25-12 loss. McKenzie Lettice had 20 digs and Grace Kiesel four blocks in the win. Central Catholic travels to No. 1 seed Hilmar on Thursday.