Mike Yates needed a hug on Saturday.
The usually fiery Union Mine volleyball coach was under the weather, with strep and his throat was so swollen he couldn't speak, his team was missing four players and dropped five tough matches at the Super 8 Tournament at St. Francis High School.
The Diamondbacks were spry, winning sets over No. 4 St. Francis and Stockton powerhouse St. Mary's, but ultimately fared the worst of the eight team field. Such is life at the late-season mega-competitive volleyball summit.
All in all the tournament field comprised: No. 1 Oak Ridge (the eventual champion), No. 4 Nevada Union, No. 5 St. Francis, the aforementioned Diamondbacks, No. 8 Golden Sierra, No. 9 Davis, No. 15 Granite Bay (the consolation bracket champions), and St. Mary's-Stockton which, if it were in the Bee's coverage area, would be ranked in the Top 5. That field could potentially produce three section champions and in D-II will provide a bulk of the top seeds awarded in that bracket.
After Davis ended Union Mine's day in the consolation semifinals, Yates was game enough for an interview, in which he wrote his thoughts on a steno pad.
"We now know our goals, our route," he wrote, "so we know what to work on and how hard we need to work to get there."
Top-ranked Oak Ridge (31-3) took the tournament crown with a resounding 25-19, 25-14 victory over Nevada Union and are now decidedly on a roll. The Trojans haven't lost since a Sept. 9 five-game thriller with Rocklin and haven't dropped a set since downing then top-ranked Christian Brothers on Oct. 2 to take over the top spot. For the second straight Saturday the Trojans swept through a tournament as they won the Carmichael Invitational last weekend.
"I thought being ranked No. 1 would put a lot of pressure on us but it hasn't," first-year Oak Ridge coach Becky Potter said. "I'm blown away by how well we've played."
In stark contrast to the win over Christian Brothers, Saturday's matches had a free-and-easy vibe as the Trojans casually - but firmly - took care of business.
"I was nervous at that vibe at first," Potter said. "But I'm OK with it as long as they perform."
Oak Ridge's unquestioned on-court leader Kaleigh Durket seemed to embody the feeling the most and had a characteristically stellar day.
"We trust each other a lot more now," Durket said. "These big victories keep giving us confidence."
The Super 8 was founded by Christian Brothers coach Jeff Deter in 2004 while he was at Golden Sierra but for the last three years has been run by St. Francis coach Alynn Wright. It's no mistake that each year eight elite programs agree to meet up on the third Saturday in October.
"With the way the leagues are set up in our section, we're craving competition at this point in the season," Wright said.
At the midpoint of league play teams like Wright's Troubadours, housed in a light Delta River League, and Golden Sierra, long a powerhouse in the Golden Empire League, often find themselves on cruise control until the brick wall that is the Section Playoffs begin on Nov. 11.
"This is the best way to prepare for playoffs and State," said Deter, whose No. 2 Falcons sat idle on Saturday. "You have to play the best to be the best."
In recent years the Super 8 has been an accurate barometer for postseason success as the last three winners have reached at least the NorCal final, and St. Francis using the Super 8 crown to springboard a State Championship run in 2005.
"Sick!" Durket said upon learning that fact. "We're ready to make that two state titles."
St. Mary's def. Granite Bay 25-19, 25-16
St. Francis def. Union Mine 17-25, 25-21, 15-5
St. Mary's def. Union Mine 21-25, 25-14, 15-8
St. Francis def. Granite Bay 25-17, 25-20
Granite Bay def. Union Mine 25-20, 25-23
St. Mary's def. St. Francis 25-22, 25-23
Oak Ridge def. Davis 25-18, 25-8
Nevada Union def. Golden Sierra 25-14, 25-14
Oak Ridge def. Golden Sierra 25-10, 25-6
Nevada Union def. Davis 25-15, 25-19
Davis def. Golden Sierra 25-15, 21-25, 15-13
Oak Ridge def. Nevada Union 25-19, 25-17
Granite Bay def. Golden Sierra 25-17, 25-23
Davis def. Union Mine 25-21, 25-17
Nevada Union def. St. Mary's 25-17, 23-25, 15-10
Oak Ridge def. St. Francis 25-20, 25-20
Granite Bay def. Davis 25-16, 16-25, 15-11
Oak Ridge def. Nevada Union 25-19, 25-14