The Shasta volleyball team kept the four-peat dream alive … but barely.
The Wolves were shaky Tuesday in a 25-21, 23-25, 25-11, 25-21 Northern Section Division III semifinal win over 10-24 Las Plumas, as the hosts played their first match without setter Britney Blomquist. The junior rolled her ankle in the regular-season ending win over Enterprise, a win the 20-18 Wolves needed in order to qualify for the postseason.
“That wasn’t the prettiest game,” senior Courtney Oilar said. “It was just a weird, awkward game.”
The win sets up a Nov. 9 section-final grudge match with Foothill, which was in the stands watching. The Cougars and Wolves have met in four of the last five D-III finals with Shasta winning three of those matchups. The Wolves enter the 2019 as the No. 2 seed, but are three-time defending section champions with a 3-1 win over Foothill last year, a 3-1 win over Red Bluff in 2017 and a 3-2 win over the Cougars in 2016.
Shasta coach Todd Taylor Tuesday was forced to adjust his lineup — much as he had to when Oilar, the team’s leading hitter, went down for three weeks with a broken bone in her hand. And while Oilar is as dominant a hitter as their is in section, losing Blomquist — who’s eighth in the section with 642 assists — forced the Wolves to shuffle a lineup trying to get used to being whole again.
Junior Emily Roberts stepped into the setter’s role to start the match and found Oilar on the second point for a set-and-thunderous kill. But the chemistry looked off as the Wolves led 19-13 in the first before Kayla Price ended the set with a kill off a Roberts set and a 25-21 win.
“When Britney is there, everyone kind of knows where they’re supposed to be,” Oilar said. “Emily did a good job, it’s just that we all weren’t sure of where we were on the court.”
The Wolves committed 10 unforced errors in the first set. In the second, the visiting Thunderbirds raced to an 11-5 lead as Shasta had three hitting errors, a bad set and one ball that dropped in between three players on a miscommunication.
But the Wolves fought back as Zoe Lin reeled off five points, including two aces, before Roberts reeled off another five and two aces of her own to knot the score at 14. Yet, the hosts couldn’t maintain the momentum as the set was tied at 19-all, 20-all, 21-all, 22-all and 23-all before an Oilar hitting error gave the Thunderbirds a 25-23 set victory.
“After adjusting to Courtney being gone, we have to adjust to Britney being gone and we weren’t there just yet,” said Lin who played the first two sets as libero before giving the gray libero jersey to freshman Natalya Turner and moving over to setter. “We worked on it in practice, but when we brought it to another team it got a little messy.”
The switch to Lin at setter sparked something in the Wolves as they blitzed to a 10-4 lead, a 17-7 edge and 22-10 advantage on an Oilar kill off a Lin set. An LP service error gave the Wolves a 25-11 set win and a 2-1 match edge as Shasta appeared to have solved its setting issues.
“Once we were able to get sets the hitters were comfortable with, the hitters were swinging away better,” Lin said, adding praise for her freshman teammate. “Natalya is very good and even though she’s a freshman, she’s confident in herself and was able to step in that role.”
Lin had 10 assists in the third set, Oilar pounded five kills and the Wolves also got four kills from Trinity Hudson and three from Kayla Price.
“I try to set a calming tone,” Price said of her role in the middle for the Wolves.
Shasta again jumped on the Thunderbirds early in the fourth set as Lin reeled off six straight service points — including three aces — as Shasta led 7-2 early. But six straight unforced Shasta errors and an Alysha Kline ace brought the T-birds back to within two at 11-9. However, an Oilar block — one of eight on the night — led to three consecutive kills from Price and Hudson and Shasta again led 15-9. But Kline connected on three straight points to pull LP within two again at 19-17.
The Wolves would end the match with an Oilar block, two Oilar kills and ice the trip back to the finals with a pair of Lin assists to the sophomore Hudson and a 25-21 victory.
Foothill beat Shasta twice in the regular season — 3-1 without Oilar on Oct. 3 and 3-0 on Oct. 22 in her first match back.
“We know the stakes are higher,” Lin said. “This is something we want, a fourth section title.”
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