High School Sports

Sac-Joaquin Section volleyball playoffs have been defined by upsets. Will there be more?

Players from St. Francis High School greet their opponents from Christian Brothers after the Troubadours won Sept. 3. No. 1 St. Francis will host No. 5 Cosumnes Oaks on Tuesday in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoff semifinal.
Players from St. Francis High School greet their opponents from Christian Brothers after the Troubadours won Sept. 3. No. 1 St. Francis will host No. 5 Cosumnes Oaks on Tuesday in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoff semifinal.

Upsets happen in the Sac-Joaquin Section volleyball playoffs, which adds to the fun and anxiety.

James Todd knows. His high-seeded Christian Brothers High School team fell to No. 10 seed El Dorado two years ago, dashing a season of great hope.

“The saying in football ‘Any Given Sunday’ is the same in these playoffs,” Todd said. “You only need to play your best every day.

“It’s very important not to look at seeding once postseason begins. Overlooking teams because of seeding could hurt you. In our gym, we prepare for every team because at any point we could be going home if we look past anyone.”

Some high seeds in this year’s playoffs have been sent home early. Sierra Foothill League champion and No. 2-seed Rocklin was swept and stunned by Gregori of Modesto in the Division I quarterfinals last week.

Just like that, season over. The Thunder was The Bee’s preseason No. 1 team and entered the postseason No. 2.

Another No. 2 seed, also from the SFL, was eliminated in D-ll. No. 7 Rio Americano traveled to Loomis and shocked the Golden Eagles in five sets behind Annabelle Thalken’s 20 kills.

“Del Oro was missing (star player Jordyn Casey), but I knew their lineup was deep,” Rio Americano coach John Grix said. “Any win in playoffs is hard to do. Both teams have invested a lot of hard work to get to this point in the season.”

Four of five teams that made the playoffs from the SFL, perhaps the toughest conference in the section, have already been eliminated. The only one left is Oak Ridge, which understands the upset theme. As a No. 7 seed last year in Division I, the Trojans toppled No. 2 Rocklin, No. 6 Cosumnes Oaks and No. 1 St. Francis in their pursuit of a section championship.

Could more top seeds fall? It’s likely. Here are semi-finals match-ups of note:

Division I

St. Francis vs. Cosumnes Oaks – These teams have played twice in Delta League action. For the Troubadours, outside hitter Alexa Edwards combined for 35 kills in the season sweep over the Wolf Pack. Cosumnes Oaks middle hitter Ramonni Cook led her team in kills in both meetings. St. Francis seeks its seventh section title appearance this decade, including the last two in D-I. Cosumnes Oaks is looking to advance to its first title game in school history.

Oak Ridge vs. Gregori – Last season, Oak Ridge traveled to No. 2 Rocklin as the No. 7 seed and won. A year later, the roles are revered as No. 3 Oak Ridge hosts No. 7 Gregori, which is fresh off an upset win over Rocklin. In the quarterfinal round against Pleasant Grove, Nora Abou-Taleb and Devon Laing led the offense to a five-set victory. The Trojans are looking to win their sixth blue banner overall and second in a row.

Division II

Tracy vs. Vacaville – Vacaville is two games away from making history. The Bulldogs have not won a section title since 2002 and are enjoying their best season in years. In the quarterfinals against Whitney, Vacaville got revenge with a four-set win. Last year, Whitney knocked Vacaville out of the playoffs, but behind efforts from Camille Rivers, Sam Wasielewski, Tiana Zamora and Keana Parry, the Bulldogs set up a date with No. 1 seed Tracy on Tuesday.

Lincoln vs. Rio Americano – If you like high-flying, hard-hitting teams who play gritty defense, get a ticket. Lincoln is having its best season since 1975, which is the last year the Zebras won a league title. Sophomore Morgan Colyer could be a major reason why Lincoln wins its first section title. Rio Americano has won seven section titles, which ranks ninth all time among section teams. The Raiders have three front row players in Kira Givans, Paige Gwaltney and Annabelle Thalken, who have combined for more than 1,110 kills.

Division III

Nevada Union vs. Hilmar – In the first two playoff games, Nevada Union has looked almost unbeatable. Faith Menary, Kayda Kinch, Kailee McLaughlin and Kendall Hughes have powered the Miners. No. 1 Nevada Union seeks its eighth title overall and first since 2008, when they won seven in a row. The No. 4 Yellowjackets have played in the last six Division IV section finals, winning the last two.

Christian Brothers vs. Central Catholic – Christian Brothers is one of six section programs to win double-digit championships and are looking for more. The No. 3 Falcons will travel to Modesto on Tuesday to play the No. 2 Raiders, who lost in the section final last season. Christian Brothers last won it all in 2016.

Division VI

Union Mine vs. El Dorado – No. 4 Union Mine will host a semifinal game against No. 9 El Dorado, which knocked off top-seeded Ripon in the quarterfinals. The Diamondbacks are coming off their best win of the season against Bear River, a Bee top 20 for most of the season. Multi-sport athlete Alli McDonald, who leads the team in kills, will put her main sport (basketball) on hold in hopes to lead Union Mine to its first title since 2011.

Division V

Colfax vs. Vacaville Christian – Top-seeded Colfax will rely on a multi-sport athlete in an effort to reach the section finals for the third time in four years. Grace Bliss leads her team in kills with 187, and Kayla Beebe and Abby Hanaway have also been major keys to the Falcons’ success.

Cameron Salerno is a prep sports reporter for The Sacramento Bee. He is a lifelong Northern California resident and has written freelance stories across the north state. He attends Sierra College and is studying journalism.