Thanks partly to two seasoned sophomores, defending Sac-Joaquin Section Division II champion El Camino is poised for a repeat.
The dynamic duo of Mikaela Nocetti and Devin Herenda has propelled the Eagles to the top of D-II this season after the team lost six seniors from the 2011 team that advanced to the section semifinals.
"I have to say I am pleasantly surprised (at) how far we have come in the time that we've had this year," El Camino coach Marty Soyama said. "Whenever you graduate that many kids, you never know what will happen. We rebounded and rebuilt very well."
A big reason for the quick reload is that Herenda and Nocetti played on the 2011 team and have excelled with another year of experience.
"They are sophomores, but they play like they are seasoned seniors," Soyama said. "They got a lot of experience on the team last year and had the opportunity to play with some very talented older kids, and it has carried over to this year."
El Camino, the top seed, will host No. 5 Ponderosa at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
If the Eagles win and No. 6 Rocklin beats No. 2 Gregori in Modesto, that will set up the third consecutive matchup between the teams for the D-II section title Thursday at UC Davis.
Herenda finished fourth in the section in assists with 863. Senior Cassidy Denny (398 kills) and Nocetti (347) formed a top outside hitting combination.
Entering the season, even Soyama was cautiously optimistic about his young team, consisting of seven sophomores and just five upperclassmen.
"Based on our talent, that is what I hoped, but even then, before you get the kids on the court and see how the team is and how they work together, you never really know," Soyama said.
Vista del Lago rolling The two-time defending D-III section champs are at it again.
After an early-season gantlet of top-ranked teams in Northern California, Vista del Lago has won eight of nine matches, including a five-setter against Christian Brothers on Thursday.
With senior captain Kelsey Sampson providing 17 kills, 14 digs and leadership, the Eagles will host Vanden on Tuesday in the semifinals.
"Kelsey played fantastic. She has been leading our team all season and has just been dominant," coach Patrick Sanders said.
The defensive-minded Eagles stymied Christian Brothers rallies with tough digs and gritty play. Sophomore Kara Campbell had 16 of Vista del Lago's 42 digs.
"That is what we emphasize," Sanders said. "A team that has a defensive strength will be in just about every match you play."
Sampson thinks this season's D-III field is as good as the powerhouses in the higher divisions.
"It's just size," Sampson said. "Quality of play, no, not at all. Nothing is different."
Top seed Oakmont will host No. 13 El Dorado in the other semifinal.
Broncos bustin' No. 12 Bella Vista is in the D-I semifinals after two upsets last week.
After beating Bethel-Vallejo in an out-bracket match, the Broncos won at No. 5 Pitman-Turlock on Tuesday and No. 4 Vintage-Napa on Thursday.
Bella Vista will be on the road again Tuesday against No. 1 seed St. Francis. No. 3 Granite Bay will play at No. 2 St. Mary's-Stockton.