All-Area Volleyball: Cat Co-MVPs Bergamaschi, Friend a dominant duo

Vongni Yang, The Union Democrat /

By the end of the 2013 volleyball season, Sonora Wildcat juniors Bella Bergamaschi and Shannon Friend were a well-oiled, setting-spiking machine.

Bergamaschi would set it up and Friend would spike it down.

When the deadly duo would connect, and it was frequent throughout Sonora's historic season, the outcome usually resulted in a point for the Wildcats.

"Bella's sets were amazing," Friend said. "Almost every time it was a perfect set. I was just ready to get a kill and celebrate with the team."

But early in the season, for a short span, that connection from setter to outside hitter was a bit off.

Bergamaschi and Friend had trouble with the timing and that led to imperfect passes.

"Believe it or not, at first, they kind of struggled," said Sonora Wildcat head coach Kim Evans. "Shannon battled hitting off of Bella. As a hitter, you always want a perfect set every time. It took them both some time to find that."

However, with more reps in the gym, the Bergamaschi-to Friend, set-to-spike connection bloomed.

"I think they gained confidence in each other as the season progressed," Evans said. "The more success Shannon had, the more success Bella had. She wanted to do the best she could do for her."

And with Bergamaschi and Friend on the same page, the charismatic duo helped lead Sonora to a perfect 14-0 mark and a Valley Oak League title in its last year before moving into the Mother Lode League, and the No. 1 seed in the Division IV Sac-Joaquin Section Volleyball Championships.

"We have a strong connection together," Bergamaschi said. "I think it helps because we kind of read each other. We are used to each other's techniques. It really helps knowing each other and how we play. Setting up is alway kind of scary. You never know if you're ever going to get a kill or not, but with Shannon you knew you were going to get a kill most of the times."

Friend, the first player in Sonora Wildcat volleyball history to play on varsity as a freshman, earned her stripes even more in the postseason.

In the fifth and final set against Hilmar for the Section championship in November, Friend made her most impressive play.

And it happened to come on defense.

Evans shuffled the front row to counter Hilmar standout Emily Baptista, a towering 6-foot-2 outside hitter.

With the match on the line at game-point, Baptista leaped into the air and hammered a powerful blast.

But there was Friend, standing tall.

"I was playing somewhere else," Friend said. "Hilmar's star hitter Emily Baptista went up to hit and I blocked her. I was so happy, and so excited, and I just went back to serve and kept rooting for my team."

From there, the Wildcats were able to overcome a two-match deficit and win coming from behind (23-25, 17-25, 25-20, 25-17, 18-16).

"Shannon was definitely our go-to player on offense," Evans said. "She stepped up quite a bit in a defensive role towards the very end. She definitely keeps on improving. One of her assets is that she doesn't know how good she is or how good she can become. She has a really nice blind shot and doesn't give away the fact that she is going blind. She can catch a lot of teams off guard. She's fun to watch. She can be very dynamic. She can put that exclamation point on a big rally that you hope can get the momentum swinging your way. She was able to do that for us."

For Bella Bergamaschi and Shannon Friend's impressive chemistry and team play, the duo is theThe Union Democrat's2013 All-Area Volleyball Co-Most Valuable Players.

"About the time of playoffs, you couldn't ask for a better connection," Evans said. "Every ball that Bella gave Shannon was a perfect set, and Shannon did whatever she wanted with it."

With Bergamaschi and Friend on top of their game, Sonora captured the program's first section crown and finished as the NorCal runner-ups. The Wildcats finished just one game short of playing in the state championships after reeling off five straight playoff victories.

"It's one of those seasons I'll never forget," Evans said. "It's one of those seasons that will never happen again, in the sense that it was all so new and so exciting. Expected, yet unexpected. We talked about it as a team several times, and you didn't want it to end because you knew it was going towards something that was never going to occur again. You can't just really win that first section title again."

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