Bill Rozak

Fans can get their first look at the Division IV defending champion Sonora volleyball team this week when the Wildcats host their longtime rival, the Oakdale Mustangs.

Fresh off its historic second-place finish at the prestigious High Sierra Tournament in Reno this past weekend, Sonora returns to play their home opener on the freshly-painted hardwood floors at Bud Castle Gym.

"We're excited that we get to be the first sport to play on the newly-finished floor in our gym," said Wildcat head coach Kim Evans. "The maintenance crew has been working hard to have everything ready for our season and the floor is just beautiful. We had a fantastic following last season and we hope our fans come out and support our home opener.It should be another great season."

Sonora and Oakdale have tied, or finished first and second, in the Valley Oak League every year since 2008, with the Wildcats owning seven straight titles, three outright including last year. Those games were always well attended with rowdy fans rooting for their teams because the league title was hanging in the balance.

This year, Sonora took its league title(s) and fled the VOL for the Mother Lode League and now face Oakdale in each team's preseason, not in the season finale with playoff rankings and a championship on the line.

"I think Oakdale always enjoys coming up to Sonora because when we play each other it seems we always bring out the best in each other," Evans said. "Does this game still have special meaning? Yes and no.Usually when we play, we are both undefeated and the VOL championship is on the line.So it's hard to have that same feeling. But this game is special to our players because this rivalry has been going on since all of their grandparents went to Sonora High. We have a lot of respect for each other and neither team wants to lose to their longtime rivals.So it still does have its magic."

And wherever Oakdale teams go, their fans follow, in hordes, when it comes to football and volleyball. Come Thursday, the scarlet and gold wearing fans will surely have a combined loud voice.

"Every time we play Oakdale both teams play with pride," Evans said, "pride for their communities, their school, their families -It's just the tradition.I'm sure they will give us their very best. We played some big powerhouse teams in Reno and finished second in the tournament, but as everyone who has ever played sports for Sonora High knows, it doesn't matter who you've played or what your record is, it's always 'Game on' when you play Oakdale.' "