Just outside Strom Gym, in the hallway hangs the four Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV runner-up plaques the Hilmar High volleyball team has earned the last four years.
Yellowjackets coach Patti Harris won’t say it, but she doesn’t want to have to make room for a fifth one.
Harris and her players hope to hang some decorations inside the gym in the form of a section blue banner. It would be the first volleyball section title in school history.
The top-seeded Yellowjackets will get another shot at section championship after sweeping No. 4 Union Mine 25-21, 25-11, 25-18 in the semifinals on Tuesday night. Hilmar (28-13) will face No. 2 Bret Harte (21-8) in the Division IV championship game on Saturday at Gregori High in Modesto at 3 p.m.
“I’m just happy,” Harris said. “To be honest, it’s a hard thing to get there. So I’m happy that we get that opportunity. From the beginning of the this season I knew this team was special. We have three seniors. It’s just a nice group of girls.”
The Yellowjackets just had too many weapons for the Diamondbacks (19-13).
Freshman Mikela Labno led Hilmar with 11 kills as the 5-foot-11 outside hitter displayed her ability to leap throughout the match. Labno has to be one reason Harris likes her chances of winning a championship this year. She didn’t have as a weapon in any of the other section finals.
“She can jump,” Harris said. “I think she cleared 5-4 in the high jump as an eighth grader.”
Fourth-year starter Mariah Ahid finished with eight kills and two aces and fellow fourth-year setter Hannah Pearce orchestrated the offense with 30 assists and two aces.
Ahid and Pearce will be making their fourth finals appearance.
“It’s crazy that it’ll be my fourth year going,” Ahid said. “I know I’ll be doing whatever it takes to bring it home this year. I know my teammates will do the same.”
“It would be a miracle to be the first team to do it,” Pearce added. “I feel we have the experience. We know what the section experience is like. Everyone on the team has been there except the three players we brought up this year.”
This is the first year Hilmar will reach the championship game as the No. 1 seed.
The previous 4 years the Yellowjackets have reached the finals as the No.2 seed and met up each time with the No. 1 seed. The first three years Sonora was the roadblock in the finals and last year it was a talented Ripon team.
So it’s not like the Yellowjackets have choked each year when they got to the championship game.
“We faced Sonora three years and they were bumped up to Division III and look what they’ve done there,” Harris said. “They made the section finals last year and Sonora is the top seed this year. Ripon had a great team last year with six good seniors. Each year is different.”
Listening to Harris you can tell she likes this team and the Yellowjackets will be set up for other long playoff runs in the future with sophomores Kayle Souza, Michaela Petersen and Julia Gonsalves playing key roles this year along with Labno.
“I think this is the year for us,” Ahid said. “We have a lot of talent. We’re a young team, but we’ve all grown together. We feed off of each other’s energy. This is what I’ve been wanting for four years now.”