Guy Dossi
The Union Democrat

The Columbia Claim Jumpers volleyball team doesn’t yet have the killer instinct needed to win close games. The Jumpers were legitimately in two of three sets against Taft, even having a 23-16 lead in the third set.

But Columbia couldn’t figure out a way to close the door and lost to the Cougars in three sets (25-18, 25-13, 27-25) Wednesday night at Oak Pavilion.

“We are still in the process of learning how to finish games,” said freshman Maddison Stevens. “We have had difficulties with that in the past and we are still fighting through it. We are a younger team, so a lot of us are inexperienced and getting that win is a challenge. I think over the year we have gotten better.”

Except for a portion of the second set, Columbia didn’t look outmatched by the Cougars.

“The girls have every reason to not fight when they get down, but they just have that character, which is to keep playing,” said Columbia head coach Rob Hoyt. “When they communicate with each other, they have fun and are aggressive all at the same time. We’ve shown signs of being really competitive. We are just searching for a way to do that every night.”

Led by Stevens, Chelsea Wertz, Megan Snyder and Allie Eveleth, the Jumpers played competitive volleyball. But it was the play of Eveleth, Columbia’s freshman setter, who got the postgame praise from Hoyt.

“She had great body control and had her sets right on point,” Hoyt said. “That is what kept us in those sets and helped us when we were able to go on those runs.”

Columbia (2-14, 0-9 Central Valley Conference) went on its first run of the first set at the right time. Taft led 9-2, but Wertz got a big block for a point and possession. The Jumpers added two more points to cut the lead to 9-5.

Following a Cougar point, Columbia got a block and point from Stevens after the ball rolled on the top of the net and calmly fell to the Taft side of the floor.

Trailing 15-8, the Jumpers went on a 6-0 run. They got points from a Wertz block and a Eveleth serving ace. Columbia cut the lead to 15-14.

“I can feel the positivity from everybody when we go on those runs,” Snyder said. “Everyone has a smile on their face and we’re all really excited when we get a run like that.”

But even after the strong run, Taft distanced itself from the Jumpers and took the set 25-18.

In the second set, it was a major run for Taft that put the score out of reach. With Columbia leading 5-4, the Cougars went on an 11-0 run.

Yet, Stevens kept fighting. She had back-to-back kills and later got a point on a block. For Stevens, the transition from winning league titles and section championships at Sonora High, to fighting to win a set at Columbia has been a difficult process.

“I try to help my own team and teach them things that I’ve learned from my previous years at Sonora,” Stevens said. “I try to incorporate things with a mental edge that I think could help. (Not winning) is a challenge that I’m not getting used to, but seeing the girls constantly improving helps.”

Through it all, Stevens has remained a constant team player and Hoyt has not had to worry about the losses potentially changing her attitude and demeanor.

“She’s probably the most coachable girl on the team,” Hoyt said. “She’s always willing to listen and to make adjustments and ask questions. She’s not someone who thinks she knows everything or that can do everything. She really just wants to be a great teammate. She’s an ideal athlete.”

After dropping the second set 25-13, Columbia turned it around in the third. The Jumpers led the majority of the set and their lead grew to 23-16. For the first time all night, everything was seemingly going the Jumpers way.

“Our team chemistry was working in the third set,” said Wertz. “Our passes were good, our sets were good and we were out there talking and able to get the ball down.”

But Columbia couldn’t put Taft away. The Cougars brought the score to 23-21 before Columbia could add another point. The game was tied at 24-24 and every pass and hit could mean the difference between a win and loss.

“You don’t wanna miss your hits and you definitely don’t wanna miss your serves,” Wertz said. “You are just trying to be the best that you can be for your team. It’s frustrating, but just getting to the point where we were one away, I mean, it set our standards and made us happy.”

Taft (10-10, 8-2 CVC) clinched the set win (27-25) with a 3-0 run.

Wertz led Columbia with nine kills and two blocks. Snyder had seven kills and Stevens had six kills and two blocks.

“That’s the best we’ve ever done against Taft,” Hoyt said. “We had an opportunity to win the first and third set, and then you never know what can happen. We still need to learn how to finish. We are close, but not to where we need to be in order to get over that hump. It’s a step in the right direction and it’s fun to be a part of and to see their growth.”

Contact Guy Dossi at (209) 588-4538 or and follow him on Twitter at @DossiGuy