By Jeffrey Larson, Correspondent
RED BLUFF – Even West Valley High girls volleyball coach Justin Byxbe noticed the calmness of U-Prep as the teams hit the court for the Northern Section Division IV championship Saturday in Red Bluff.
“I thought they looked a lot more loose and prepared to play,” Byxbe said. “My hats off to their coaching.”
U-Prep was in the finals a year ago and was upset in straight sets by sixth-seeded Pierce. This time around U-Prep looked like it was going to take home the title. The division’s top-seed started quickly and utilized its high-powered front-row attack all night to sweep second-seeded and perennial power West Valley 25-12, 25-13, 25-16.
U-Prep (36-7) relied early on its top two guns on the outside, Kennedy and Madison Kremer, with Kennedy providing four of her eight kills to get the Panthers off to a 13-7 lead in the first set. Madison Kremer, a junior with a wicked jump serve, immediately got going out of the West Valley timeout, flooring one of her team-high nine kills to extend it to 15-7.
The Northern Athletic League champions wouldn’t look back in the first, finishing off the opening-set victory, 25-12, thanks to a service ace from Madison Kremer off that tricky float jump serve.
The Eagles (30-7), led by Bianca Jones’ nine kills and a trio of winners by sophomore Alexis Proscher, rallied in the second with an 8-1 run to push in front 9-7 for its first lead in the match. But Madison Kremer answered with a couple kills off senior setter Madi Friebel to help University Prep jump back ahead 14-10.
“They (the Kremers) are amazing and their setter makes every pass look perfect,” Byxbe said. “They’re going to score points that we are not going to stop. So the points that we can score we have to do it, and we just did not put the ball away.”
University Prep’s Madison Kremer capped the second set 25-13 with another service winner. It was a ball that died almost immediately after crossing the net before any West Valley defender could react in time.
“We had to play smarter than them,” Madison Kremer said.
The third and final set was the closest as University Prep and West Valley exchanged leads twice and battled through five ties, the last deadlock at 10-all. But from there University Prep flipped the switch on its front-row power. Kennedy Kremer collected a transition block on the left side with Madison serving, while Friebel floored a service winner to get it to 22-14 and on the verge of a title.
Madison Kremer elaborated on the team’s offensive strategy.
“You don’t need to hit it hard every time, just find the spot,” Kremer said. “Rolling into a spot that’s open where there is not a passer.”
Sophomore Ashlee Kraft chipped in four kills for the finally-crowned D-IV champions.
“Last year was a brutal loss, because we know we could have won,” Madison Kremer said. “West Valley is a great team who we got to play a couple times which helps us know who they are. We just had to work harder and want it more and it turned out in the end.”
As for the upcoming NorCal state regional tournament, Kremer the excitement is palpable.
“We’re super excited and confident,” Kremer said.
Meanwhile, West Valley feels it has the credentials and the right amount of wins to sneak in as an at-large bid following its loss Saturday.
“We have had a great season, we won a big tournament, took second in Carmichael,” Byxbe said. “We’re a good team, U-Prep just has our number.”
NorCal regional seeds are announced Sunday.
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