I’ve seen it happen way too many times: A team cruises through league play, gets content, and becomes an early casualty in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
It doesn’t matter the sport. It can happen to any team.
Well, the volleyball teams at Pitman and Sonora high schools took measures to prevent suffering such a fate.
With their league schedules wrapped up, the Pride and Wildcats met on Tuesday in Turlock for a non-league matchup that was scheduled only three weeks ago.
Pitman, which hasn’t been pushed to five games since 2011, eked out a 22-25, 25-23, 21-25, 25-21, 15-13 victory.
And, according to Pride coach Kristen Pontes-Christian, it was just what her team needed.
“We added this game about three weeks ago,” said Pontes-Christian, whose team learned Wednesday that it is the No. 1 seed in the Division I playoffs, which begin today with a handful of play-in games. “I’m so glad we did. It was tough match, a back-and-forth battle, and exactly what we needed going into playoffs.
For a moment Tuesday, Sonora coach Kim Evans wasn’t so sure.
“I walked in there (Tuesday) night and thought, ‘This could be 25-8 and we could out of here really quickly,’” said Evans, whose defending D-IV section champs also were awarded a No. 1 seed Wednesday. “‘Are we doing the right thing here? I sure hope so.’”
The teams even warmed up before the game as if it were a postseason match.
Regularly, teams start by sharing the court with the opposition for three minutes, followed by five minutes of solo court time, then by five minutes on the sideline (vice versa for the other squad). Then the teams share the court once more for two minutes.
In the playoffs, it’s 16 shared, followed by six minutes solo and six minutes off.
“We treated it exactly like a playoff match,” Pontes-Christian said. “Sometimes, little things, little tweaks, can throw the girls off.”
Not that these teams don’t have plenty of playoff experience.
Pitman advanced to the Division I semifinals last season, where it lost to eventual state champion Granite Bay. Sonora won the D-IV title in a thrilling five-gamer over Hilmar, then advanced all the way to the NorCal finals.
This season, Sonora is 29-5, with losses to Pitman, St. Francis (Sacramento), San Marcos (Santa Barbara) and twice to El Camino (Sacramento) – all ranked among the state’s top 50 by MaxPreps.com.
“We went into practice (Wednesday) and up on the whiteboard I wrote a saying that I totally believe in: ‘A loss becomes a gain,’” said Evans, who returned 10 players, and all her starters, from last year’s championship squad. “We just sat and talked about how fantastic it was to have this opportunity, but at the same time if we don’t gain something from this loss, then it didn’t help us. We watched that fifth set in film session and looked at what we need to do so that doesn’t happen again.”
Pitman is 37-1 this year, with the lone loss coming to San Jose’s Archbishop Mitty, the top-ranked team in the nation by MaxPreps.
Unlike last season, when Pitman was on the road for its matchup against Granite Bay, the Pride won’t have to leave its gym until the section final – where it could meet Sonora again.
Wait! What? How can D-I and D-IV teams meet in a section final?
Look closely at the section’s playoff brackets. The D-I and D-IV finals both will be played at 8 p.m. on Nov. 21 at UC Davis – on adjacent courts.
“After the match (Tuesday) night, I walked over to Kristen and told her, ‘Hey, let’s get all our fans back here at the same place and cheer for each other,” Evans said. “Let’s meet each other at Davis.”
Playoff pairings – Pitman and Sonora won’t begin postseason play until Nov. 11. The Pride’s opponent will be decided today when No. 16 McClatchy (Sacramento) hosts No. 17 Edison (Stockton) in a play-in game. The Wildcats, meanwhile, draw No. 16 Hughson.
All playoff games through the semifinals start at 7 p.m.
Also in the Division I field are No. 9 Enochs and No. 10 Turlock. In the D-II tourney, No. 17 Beyer travels to Stockton today to face No. 16 Bear Creek in a play-in game; No. 14 Gregori visits No. 3 Rocklin and No. 9 Golden Valley travels to face No. 8 Tracy.
In Division III, it’s No.8 Los Banos hosting No. 9 Liberty Ranch and No. 6 Oakdale entertaining No. 11 Sacramento.
In Division IV, only five of the 16 teams are from outside the Stanislaus District.
In addition to Sonora-Hughson, first-round matchups include No. 15 Orestimba vs. No. 2 Hilmar; No. 14 Highlands vs. No. 3 Calaveras; No. 13 El Capitan vs. No. 4 Escalon; No. 12 Colfax vs. No. 5 Amador; No. 11 Central Catholic vs. No. 6 Ripon; No. 10 Union Mine vs. No. 7 Bear River; No. 9 West Campus vs. No. 8 Ripon Christian.
In D-V, No. 6 Gustine hosts No. 11 Buckingham Charter; No. 12 Western Sierra visits No. 5 Mariposa and No. 8 Big Valley Christian hosts No. 9 Hughes Academy.
In D-VI, No. 5 Turlock Christian visits No. 4 New Life Christian and No. 7 Tioga visits No. 2 Stone Ridge Christian.