Lady Dragons NCS heartbreaker
4th-seed SCL champ Sonoma spikers nipped in thriller by Novato
Sophomores Delaney Swanson (right) and Ciara Smith (back, left) combine for a block during the fourth-seed Lady Dragons’ nail-biting five-set NCS quarterfinal loss to fifth-seed Novato Saturday night in Pfeiffer Gym.
As the season progressed, so did the young Sonoma Valley High School varsity volleyball girls, who improved with each match and, after the defending co-champions dropped their Sonoma County League opener, won 13 straight matches to claim both their second consecutive SCL title and league tournament crown.
With the momentum built from their SCL winning streak and dual-title run, the Sonoma spikers, with only two seniors on the roster, hoped to keep rolling in the postseason’s North Coast Section Division-3 championship playoffs.
Unfortunately, after receiving a first-round bye, the fourth-seeded Lady Dragons ran into an athletic, big-hitting fifth-seeded Novato team, which derailed their sectional aspirations by delivering a heartbreaking five-set defeat in Saturday night’s NCS quarterfinal match in a crowded Pfeiffer Gym.
When the visiting Hornets came out swinging and posted a stinging 25-10 first-set win, Sonoma seemed stunned and staggered, especially when it found itself trailing 19-13 in the second set.
But, as they did when they surged from behind to edge second-place Petaluma and win the league title, the Lady Dragons suddenly came to life, and fueled by SCL most valuable player, sophomore Mackenzie Albrecht, and sophomore all-leaguers Delaney Swanson, Ciara Smith and Anastasia Claros, rallied for a 25-21 victory.
After Sonoma took control of the match by cruising to a 25-18 third-set triumph, the Hornet girls gained an early fourth-set advantage and held on for a 25-20 win and set up the tense fifth and deciding set to 15 points.
Both teams then took turns taking slight leads until Novato nipped the Lady Dragons 16-14 in the extended fifth-set and advanced to the NCS semifinals, while ending Sonoma’s shining season.
“Of course it’s tough to lose, but I’m so proud of what our girls accomplished, how they always battled and continue to improve,” said Sonoma head coach Mindy Neves. “We’ll miss our two seniors, but I feel good for our young players and the experience they got through the season and into the postseason, which will serve us well for the coming years.”
Along with Albrecht, Swanson, Smith and Claros, the two-time SCL-champion Lady Dragons – directed by Neves and assistant coaches Brittany Anderson and Michele Foster, and team manager Lily Shipiro – consisted of senior all-leaguers Allyson Beckwith and Alexis Long-Am; juniors Janeth Silva, Kaitlyn Boldt, Kayten Mak and all-league Gianna Monterosso; and sophomore Hannah Herrick.