Given the history between the Foothill and Shasta volleyball programs over the past four years, Thursday’s Eastern Athletic League showdown was one to circle on the calendar once the schedule came out.
The match lost some of its luster as Courtney Oilar, the Wolves’ leading hitter, was sidelined with a broken finger on her right hand. But make no mistake, the Cougars were more than happy to earn a 25-11, 25-18, 21-25, 26-24 win over the team that’s beaten them in the past two Northern Section Division III finals.
The visitors came out blazing in the first set as senior setter Sarah Ault was in synch with outside hitter Maddy Frick and Presley Hamilton and assisted on the sophomore’s first two kills to post Foothill (13-9, 2-2 Eastern Athletic League) to an early 8-2 lead.
And while the Ault-to-Frick combination paired up four times in the first-set victory, the Cougars really got rolling on junior Ella Jacobs’ 9-0 service run that included three straight aces. With Jacobs serving, the Cougars boosted their lead from 10-3 to 18-4 after Jacobs finally served one into the net. By the time Frick ended the set with an ace of her own, it looked as though the Oilar-less Wolves were in for a quick night.
“After the first game I thought it was going to be a quick three,” said Foothill coach Pablo Lana, adding the motivation of playing Shasta for the first time since a deflating section title loss was in the forefront of his team’s mind. “You could see it in that first game. They wanted to come out and end it.”
And while the Cougars were settling an old score, the Wolves (17-14, 1-3) were just trying to find some direction. Coach Todd Taylor said the loss of Oilar forced the team to switch things up and that there might be some growing pains while players adjust to different roles.
The second set started much like the first with the Cougars dictating play and Ault finding hitters with spot-on passes. She hooked up Frick for a kill to tie the game early at 1-all and then Frick put her squad up for good in the second set with an ace.
From there, the hitting of the Cougars and Shasta’s inability to find offensive rhythm kept the visitor’s in front, and the only thing that kept the second set from getting away from Shasta was Foothill’s nine hitting errors.
And while the Wolves looked out of sorts in the 25-18 second-set loss, their fortunes shifted in a third set that saw Ault get a rest and the home team find some momentum.
“I felt the girls really picked it up in that set,” Taylor said. “We went back to things we were comfortable with after starting with something new without Courtney.
“They have a big block and I think Ella (Rodriguez) needed time to figure it out and she became more aggressive as the match wore on.”
The Wolves got two kills from Kayla Price, one each from the junior Rodriguez, Rondi Elo and Trinity Hudson as Britney Blomquist got on a roll setting her hitters. She even added a kill as Shasta nursed a 10-7 early lead. Shasta took command 24-20 on a Foothill hitting error and Zoey Lin ace before Blomquist ended the set with a winning block.
“We took our foot off the gas and their outside hitters started dominating and we couldn’t stop them with our block and they got some gas and we had a hard time picking it back up,” Lana said.
The fourth set was nip-and-tuck as a Rodriguez kill knotted things at 7 before a Frick kill and two subsequent aces from the 6-foot sophomore bumped the Cougars’ edge to 10-7. With Foothill up 18-16, the teams traded service errors and a Foothill net violation moved the score to 20-18 in favor of the visitors.
After an Ault kill gave Foothill a 21-18 edge, Shasta answered back with a Blomquist kill, an Emma Woods ace and a Wolves point on miscommunication between the Cougars to knot the score at 21.
A Hudson kill gave Shasta a 23-22 edge before Ault connected with Frick for a kill as she dumped it to an open spot in the Wolves defense to tie the set up again for the seventh time.
Caitlin Milligan put the visitors up with a kill, but Hudson answered with a kill of her own.
The Cougars finished off the Wolves with an Ault-to-Frick kill and then a Shasta setting error gave Foothill the 3-1 victory.
Ault finished with 20 assists and four kills, while Frick posted 15 kills, Milligan added nine kills and Hamilton chipped in six kills. Teagan Richards had nine assists and two kills for the Cougars.
For the Wolves, Blomquist had 19 assists, four kills and four blocks. Rodriguez and Hudson each posted eight kills.
“From our end, our big hitters came through,” Lana said. “Sarah came through, Presley came through and Maddy came through and our setting got on target. We started playing better defense in the fourth set and it was a big gut check.”
He said that he imagines his squad will see the Wolves beyond the final regular season meeting between the two on Oct. 22.
“(Going after) PV and Chico are fun, but it’s more important to beat people in our division and people we’ve played in the section finals three out of the last four years,” he said.
It was something his counterpart echoed.
“They’re a great team and it’s going to be a battle every time and I hope to see them a couple more times this year.”
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