Bill Rozak

Angela Gardella's powerful blast from her right arm reverberated around Bud Castle Gym.

Two games up and ahead 22-21 in Game 3, Gardella drove a powerful spike into the hardwood floor. It was the perfect highlight from Sonora's dominant performance.

"Maria (Chacon) made a great set and Angela went up and she sent a message," said Sonora Wildcat head coach Kim Evans. "It was like an exclamation point that, 'You're not gonna score anymore points on us. We are gonna finish this match in three.' That one hit summed up everything tonight."

The No. 3 Wildcats defeated No. 14 Mariposa 3-0 (25-14, 25-18, 25-21) on Tuesday in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV Volleyball Championships.

"No, I don't think I've ever hit it that hard," said Gardella, a sophomore. "Well, maybe at practice. But definitely not during a game. I honestly didn't think Maria was gonna set me so I started running up to early. And then I saw it coming so I kind of backed off and swung really hard hoping I would get the kill. And I hit it right down the line. I was like, 'Oh my gosh -that ball's in!' I was just really excited and happy that I could help the team."

It took about 90 seconds from the opening serve for the Wildcats to assert themselves.

After Sonora surrendered the first point, Wildcat sophomore Bella Bergamaschi served for six straight and Sonora's front line made life miserable for Grizzly hitters. Cassidy Knowles, one of Sonora's two seniors, made a block that went for a point. On the next rally, Mariah Armstrong, the other senior, mirrored Knowles' effort. Knowles and Armstrong added kills off Bergamaschi assists for the next two points and the Cats put a stranglehold on Game 1. Sophomore Savannah Lawrence finished the game with four service points, the final an ace.

"We played as a team and not just individuals," said Lawrence. "Our defense was really good against their big hitter (No. 6 Janell Godfrey). We practiced on blocking her, but we weren't completely focused on her. But she could win the game for them so we had to shut her down first."

"Our defense did a good job," said Evans. "Their No. 6 is a great hitter over there. We kind of knew some of her tendencies so we tried to take those away right from the beginning. And in Game 1, every ball was blocked straight down - which is kind of tough on a player. We've been working a lot on our blocking at practice. We did a lot of work before Oakdale and that just carried over here."

In Game 2, Mariposa made some adjustments and were even with Sonora until late. With the Wildcats leading 19-18, sophomore Bailey Henington took over on the service line. Six serves later, two of which were aces, the game was over. Gardella finished the game with a kill.

Game 3 was close throughout with Mariposa jumping out to an early lead (8-5) only to have the Cats come back to tie (17-17) and eventually pull away.

For Sonora, Armstrong had a game-high 10 kills and she also made nine digs and two block assists, Lawrence had seven kills, served for an ace, had two block assists and seven serve-receives, Shannon Friend had six kills and a block assist, Bergamaschi had 11 assists and served for an ace, Chacon had eight assists, Sarah Thompson had three block assists, Henington had 14 digs and eight serve-receives and also served for three aces and Leah Dambacher had 14 digs.

"Everybody was really focused and we played really hard - we wanted to win," said Gardella. "Coach (Evans) did a great job of preparing us mentally before the game and we came out on fire. Everybody set up their blocks really well. At practice we were really working on keeping our hands together and not letting anything through which made it easier on our passing. When the ball did get through our passing, Bailey and Leah just picked them up and did a good job."

The Wildcats next will host No. 11 Hilmar, of the Trans Valley League, who knocked off No. 6 Los Banos 3-2, on Thursday at 7 p.m. The TVL is looking formidable with all three teams in the Division IV playoffs winning in three games on Tuesday. No. 12 Ripon edged No. 5 Summerville and No. 1 Escalon beat No. 16 Calaveras.

"Tonight was a lot of fun," said Armstrong. "I thought that it might be a longer game because both teams are good and have come a long way to be here. This win definitely builds our confidence. I wanna keep going and I want to see the same type of effort and energy on Thursday that we had tonight."