ATHERTON — The words “Sonora volleyball” and “lose” don’t seem like they belong in the same sentence.
Bill Rozak / Union Democrat The Sonora Wildcats pose with their NorCal runnerup plaque they received Tuesday night at Menlo School. Forming the Wildcats greatest team ever (from left) Angela Gardella, Ali Pelfrey, Leah Dambacher, Shannon Friend, Bailey Henington, Kiana Pisula, Bella Bergamaschi, Savannah Lawrence, Kelsie Evans, Makenzee Hope and Maria Chacon.
The Wildcats didn’t lose a head-to-head battle this season, other than short, abbreviated matches in tournaments.
And the season started over four months ago — that’s a lot of winning. It was an historic amount that included a Valley Oak League title and the school’s first Sac-Joaquin Section championship.
But on Tuesday, the Wildcats’ greatest volleyball season came to an end in the NorCal Finals of the 2013 CIF State Girls Division IV Championships.
The No. 2 seed Wildcats ran into private school powerhouse, and top seed, the Menlo Knights, and were beaten in five games 25-21, 22-25, 25-15, 22-25, 15-7.
Sonora has to settle for being the second best team in northern California and the fourth best squad in the entire state. Of the last four teams that were standing heading into Tuesday’s game, the Wildcats were the only public school. And that public school had more fans in the stands Tuesday than the home team.
“We battled and fought for every point,” said Wildcat head coach Kim Evans. “We went down to the fifth set and that’s right where we wanted to be, but obviously we wish the outcome would have been different. They are a very good team. They are a private school and we are certainly the underdog in that type of situation. We come from Tuolumne County and they can’t even pronounce it (referring to the pregame introduction). So I am so proud of our girls for coming into a facility like this, to walk in proud to have come from Sonora, and not let anything break that confidence.”
“I don’t think we played our best, but we came back and fought back, tonight just wasn’t our time,” said Wildcat senior Maria Chacon. “I’m so proud of everyone with what we accomplished. It’s amazing to be a part of a team that made so much history. I know I shouldn’t be crying, but I’m sad it’s over. We did a good job and that’s something to be proud of.”
The Wildcats jumped all over the Knights in the first set and led 10-4. Bella Bergamaschi had five assists, Shannon Friend had three kills and Savannah Lawrence and Angela Gardella each had two.
But Menlo reeled off eight straight points after a timeout to take the lead. The set remained close with the teams tied at 20 before closed out the Cats.
“That first set … we got down and didn’t keep up the intensity when we needed to,” said Friend who had a team-high 21 kills and three blocks. “I think we could’ve done a lot better. I’m very happy that we came this far and how we played in the second set.”
Where Menlo put Sonora away in the first set, the Wildcats flipped the script in the second. Down 21-20, Sonora scored five of the final six points despite Menlo calling a pair of timeouts.
After the Wildcats won the first point of Set 3 after a long, exciting rally, it went downhill from there. Menlo stormed out to a 10-3 lead and eventually pushed it to 21-9 before Sonora rallied but far too late.
In the fourth set, Sonora charged back at Menlo and led for most and took the lead for good, 12-11, on a Kelsie Evans kill.
“That’s what we’ve done all season,” Evans said. “We’ve been down several times. Not only in points but in sets and we’ve always come back and fought. And we did that again tonight right until the end.”
Sonora finished the season with a 31-6 record, including 14-0 in the VOL. The team received a wooden plaque for being the NorCal runner-up and each player received a medal.
“We played our hearts out 100 percent, I have no regrets,” said Wildcat Bailey Henington. “I feel like everybody here gave 100 percent. They were good, but they were beatable and we should’ve beat them, but it happens. We accomplished so much this year. I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life.”
“I have mixed feelings,” said Wildcat senior Ali Pelfrey. “We played really hard. We came out here knowing that Menlo was pretty good. We heard all these things that they beat Hilmar in three and did just a little better than us, but we’re like, we’re just as good. We calmed down and realized we could do this and we could’ve, it was anyones game.
“But for me, this game, I did a lot better than I have in awhile, it was a big game for me. But it’s rough. Maria’s over there making me cry with us being the only seniors. We’re the only ones that have gone this far at Sonora High, so for us to end our senior year to end like this is an amazing feeling.”