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Bullfrogs get leg up in MLL, beat Skins

BRET HARTE'S KYLIE KESTER (6) makes a successful pass for the Bullfrogs on Tuesday night in Angels Camp. The Bullfrogs took over sole possession of first place in the Mother Lode League with their 3-0 victory over arch-rival Calaveras. MAGGIE BECK/UNION DEMOCRAT
Heading into Tuesday night’s Mother Lode League volleyball contest between host Bret Harte and Calaveras, both teams had 4-0 records — and sole possession of first place was on the line.
    Bullfrog hitter Brie Preston decided quickly that it would be Bret Harte that would stay atop the MLL standings.
    How quickly?
    Very quickly.
    With Bret Harte ahead 7-6 in Game No. 1, Preston leaped high into the air, cocked back her right arm and ...
    Preston smacked that volleyball so hard it bounced off a Redskin player’s fist and traveled sideways — to the top of the bleachers.
       Not content with just that tomahawk spike, some 30 seconds later, Preston threw down another earth-moving kill — and the score was 9-6.
    Then Preston let fly another rocket, upping Bret Harte’s lead to 10-6.
      So, three plays, three straight Preston kills.
      “It was craziness out there,” said Preston. “I didn’t have a clue as to how many kills I had. I just was very stoked to come out here and play.”
    “When Brie is on fire, it’s like the key to an ignition,” said Bret Harte head coach Rich Juarez. “It lights up the whole team.”
    Ahead 21-17, Preston dropped another laser on Calaveras and upped that lead to five.
    When the score was 23-17, Preston threw down a pulverizing cross-court kill.
    Teammate Lauren Lane did the honors — by blasting over a behemoth spike — in ending Game 1 (25-18).
    All told, Preston had an eye-popping seven kills in Game 1.
    A fluke?
    Hardly. The 5-foot-10 Preston had another seven kills in Game 2 and Bret Harte won 26-24.
    In Game 3, Preston had two more kills, Lane and teammate Kylie Kester had three apiece, Bret Harte won 25-21, earned a 3-0 victory and took sole possession of first place.
    “Right now, this is a pretty amazing feeling,” said Preston. “Last year, we only won two games and now we’re a winning team, first in our league and I hope we keep playing like this and pull out a title.”
    Bret Harte (5-0 MLL) has a lot of bullets in the gun.
    You can start with its spiking army of Preston, Kester and Lane.
    On Tuesday, Preston had 16 kills, Kester 12 and Lane five.
    And then there’s teammates Erika Rasmussen, Cassidy Davis and setter-supreme Brittany Schulte.
    Rasmussen and Davis each had four block-kills on Tuesday, and Schulte was perfect.
    Nah, you’re thinking, she couldn’t have been perfect.
    Yes. Yes she was. Schulte set 100-for-100 and had 35 assists.
    “I think we carried the momentum all the way through from start-to-finish,” said Juarez. “I do think that Calaveras is a lot better than they showed tonight. And I think we’ll see that at their home when we travel there (Oct. 13).”
    To be sure, Calaveras (4-1 MLL) had some highlights on Tuesday.
    Redskin co-captain Savannah Duncan has a nasty, beguiling hypersonic serve.
    Trailing Bret Harte 11-10 in Game 2, Duncan took the serve and  Calaveras scored six straight points. Of those six points, three came by aces. Duncan had a match-high eight aces and a team-high 27 assists.
    Madison Hull had a team-high seven kills, Brianna McGinness six, Paulina Mejia five and Adrienne Alberts four.
    “I thought we were up and down all night,” said Hull. “We didn’t pull together as a team as much as we should have. Next time we play them, we’ll play stronger as a team.”
    “Well,” said McGinness, “we had a few mental lapses tonight. We just need to stay steady. If we lose a point, we need to move past it and move on immediately to the next point.
    “We are a strong team. What’s nice about our team is that we don’t have any arguments and that each of us can do everything. We don’t just rely on one strong passer or one strong hitter. We have 12 good passers and 12 good hitters.”
    Redskin head coach Mikki Koepp singled out Taylor Smahlik for strong play on Tuesday.
    Down 21-17 in Game 3, Smahlik’s gutsy block-kill gave Calaveras some renewed energy.
    “Taylor Smahlik has the most heart out of everyone,” said Koepp. “She gave it everything she had.”
    As for the match, Koepp said, “We must block. They hit well, so we have to block. I think we didn’t really show up tonight. There were a few moments where we had some spark. But, for some reason, we don’t believe we can do it. Hopefully, we’ll figure that out before we play them next.”
    “Calaveras stuck with us in all three games,” said Lane. “But throughout the day, we were ready for this match. We were all just so pumped up. Even last night, we were all so excited about playing this match.
    “Brie was definitely on tonight and she and Kylie were both slamming the ball. That Brittany Schulte was so on target helped us, too. Our whole team played amazing. We communicated, we left everything out on that floor, got it together quickly whenever we made a mistake ... and we won.”

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