PALO CEDRO – The extended layoff due to COVID has been worth the wait so far for the Cougars.
Foothill High’s volleyball team has picked up right where it left off from capturing the 2019 Northern Section Division III championship, winning its first three matches of the season including a 25-14, 25-12, 25-16 sweep of Enterprise Tuesday night at the Cougars’ Palace.
The chances of having a season were slim just two months ago. Getting back on the court has presented unprecedented challenges but the payoff from not playing for 498 days has been rewarding, Foothill coach Pablo Iana said.
“I’m glad we had (a season) for them,” Iana said. “The best thing is watching these girls smile.”
Foothill’s offensive weapons of junior Madelyn Frick and seniors Presley Hamilton and Amber Wallace return, giving senior setter Teagan Richards plenty of trustworthy options to deliver a kill. Adding a lengthy offseason focused on defense, led by senior libero Lilly Caldwell, makes the Cougars (3-0) the favorite to defend their title, even if it is a shorted season and an unofficial Shasta County large schools crown.
“Everyone is getting after it and hustling, you don’t see many balls hit the ground,” Iana said. “We have the offense we did last year but the kids have committed to it and serving too.”
Foothill channeled that offseason mindset into the first match as the defense was on full display in the opening set against Enterprise. Frick served five aces as part of a 10-0 Cougar run to jump ahead 11-1. Foothill totaled 11 aces in the first set as Macey Bunn and Richards added two apiece. Wallace and Frick put down back-to-back kills to end the first 25-14.
The offense caught up with the serving in the second with Frick and junior middle blocker Lillia Turner mixing in kills to build a 7-0 and 11-1 advantage. Foothill coasted from there with Hamilton peppering Enterprise with four kills in a five-point span. Wallace contributed a pair of kills down the stretch before Frick’s fading away kill sealed the second set 25-12.
“Every game we have to come out thinking they’re the best team and not underestimate anyone,” Frick said.
Foothill’s dynamic duo of Frick and Hamilton registered 13 kills and 12 kills, respectively, the third time in as many matches this season the two have each turned in double-digit kills. Hamilton added 10 digs for a double-double and Frick pitched in with six aces. The two outside hitters feed off each other and can put down a kill from anywhere on the court.
“We keep the energy alive,” Frick said. “It’s great to be leading the team and encouraging everybody.”
Enterprise (0-3) made it interesting in the third set. Despite Richards starting off with three consecutive aces, part of her team-best seven on the evening, Foothill allowed Enterprise to stay in it. The Hornets forced the Cougars to side out six straight times, preventing them from stringing together points and gaining momentum.
A service ace from Kimmie Nickel and a Foothill hitting error brought the Hornets within two points for the first of three times, the final at 16-14.
But the Cougars finished the set off with an 8-2 run, getting a momentum-swinging pancake dig from Bunn followed by a full extension reach by Caldwell to keep a long rally alive that the Cougars would win. Richards’ ace two points later sealed the match at 25-16.
The defense fueled the victory from the start and wrapped it up at the end with Caldwell in the mix as Iana expected.
“She gets everyone into the defensive mode and mindset,” Iana said.
Caldwell led Foothill with 11 digs, Richards racked up 35 assists and Wallace pitched in with five kills.
Enterprise’s Emma Keltner paced the Hornets with three kills.
Enterprise hosts Red Bluff Thursday while Foothill hosts Shasta next. The Cougars escaped a five-set road win over Shasta on March 23.
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