High school girls volleyball: Merlino sisters are in tune with No. 14 Rio Americano

10/14/2013 12:00 AM

10/14/2013 1:57 AM

In the 1970s, the animated series "Schoolhouse Rock!" featured catchy tunes such as "Three Is A Magic Number."

That tune would just as well be played out now with the Rio Americano High School volleyball team if "We are Family" wasn't so obvious.

Three Merlino sisters lead the way for the Raiders in senior Michala, junior Maddie and freshman Meghan, each a starter for No. 14-ranked Rio Americano. Coach John Grix said the siblings love each other unconditionally, but they squabble, too.

"Sometimes, it's like I am their big brother and I have to break them up every once in a while," Grix said. "But they love each other. Sometimes, one will snap at another, but they get over it really fast."

The Raiders (11-7, 2-1 Capital Athletic League) finished third in the large-school portion of the Carmichael Invitational Volleyball Tournament on Saturday.

Each Merlino sister is an honors student, and each brings versatile and unique qualities to the court. Michala is the seasoned veteran and defensive specialist. Now in her fourth varsity season, she is the vocal leader for her two younger siblings and the rest of the team.

"She has been able to give them a lot of insight on being patient," Grix said.

Maddie, a setter, led the Sac-Joaquin Section in 2012 with 1,227 assists (10.8 per set). She is on pace again this season with a section-leading 10.4 average.

Meghan is second on the team in kills (184) behind junior Madison Hunziker (223). Meghan's immediate contribution at the net didn't surprise Grix.

"She used to come and mess around with our freshmen and JV team as a seventh- and eighth-grader, and she was better than them half the time," Grix said. "So we knew she would make an impact coming in as a freshman."

All three are jokers, too. As the middle sister, Maddie learned to become an individual, to stand out, and has the most unusual personality of the three because "she is so weird," a kidding Meghan said.

"They are probably the funniest people to talk to," Grix said. "They all have their unique personalities."

Rio Americano is tied with No. 20 Whitney for second place in the CAL, its loss a 3-0 sweep against No. 7 El Camino on Oct. 3. The Raiders beat the Eagles 2-0 in the CIVT, and the league rematch is Oct. 22 at Rio Americano.

In her final season with her two siblings, Michala wants nothing more than to go out with league and section championships – with help from her sisters, of course.

"It's amazing," she said. "They give me such great support, and I support them. We have a lot of fun together. When we are on the court, we are teammates. We have to get it out of our heads that we are sisters."

Bella Vista regroups – No. 8 Bella Vista is playing at a high level after starting the season 9-8.

The Broncos reeled off 12 consecutive wins before losing to 2012 Division II section runner-up Gregori of Modesto in the CIVT final Saturday.

Led by Sara Hibbs, the Broncos are tied for first place in the Capital Valley Conference with No. 3 Christian Brothers after beating No. 11 Oakmont on Wednesday.

Nelson sparks Grizzlies – No. 1 Granite Bay won the NorCal Classic on Saturday at Vista del Lago with a 2-0 victory over Presentation of San Jose. Grizzlies senior setter Taylor Nelson was named tournament MVP.

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