If you’re a Bay Area high school girls volleyball fan, you’ve probably heard about them, but in case you haven’t we’re here to tell you. There is a California girls volleyball force in the Redwood Empire portion of the CIF North Coast Section from a school in the shadow of majestic Mt. Tamalpais recently known more for football.
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On Saturday night at home in Kentfield and in front of a large, enthusiastic crowd, top-seeded Marin Catholic (30-4) won the CIF North Coast Section Division 3 title with a 25-15, 25-16, 25-21 victory over No. 10 seed Alhambra of Martinez.
It was the fourth straight NCS championship for six-year head coach Jake Spain and his FloVolleyball national No. 35 and Cal-Hi Sports No. 7 state-ranked Wildcats.
The girls now move into the CIF Northern Regional Open Division playoffs as the No. 2 seed and No. 2 team in Northern California behind top-seeded Archbishop Mitty. The victory also continues a streak of eight straight 3-0 matches that began after Marin Catholic lost to Mitty in the finals of the Stockton Classic. That loss came on the heels of a victory over state No. 12 ranked and NorCal Open No. 4 seed St. Ignatius of San Francisco.
Spain has a combination of height and great setting and when those two are clicking Marin Catholic can be very hard for opponents to win games, let alone matches. Even with the loss to Mitty, plus losses to Arizona No. 1 Xavier Prep of Phoenix, Kentucky No. 1 Assumption of Louisville, and state top 50 Harvard-Westlake of North Hollywood, the Wildcats have outscored opponents in sets 79-13.
Against Alhambra, the front line of 6-foot-2 senior outside hitter Riley Ramsey, 6-foot-5 sophomore middle blocker Kari Geissberger, 6-foot-2 senior right side/middle blocker Bella Bergmark, and 5-foot-10 senior outside hitter Ry Goodwin was clicking on all cylinders. The reason is they were all getting perfect sets by junior Leah Pease, and the results produced percentages even higher than what the girl’s averages are this season.
For Ramsey, a captain along with Goodwin and the Wildcats’ kills leader, it was just another day at the office. She had 13 kills on 22 attempts, eight digs, two ace services and a block.
It wasn’t exactly a breakout match for Geissberger but she was extremely aggressive and controlled the net, particularly at one stretch in the second set.
Trailing 2-3 to the Bulldogs early on, Marin Catholic tied it at 3-3 on an Alhambra error. From there Geissberger was like a girl possessed. First she had a block and a kill, and then a kill. Then, after a block and kill by Bergmark, Geissberger followed with back-to-back block/kills to make it 8-3, and even though the final outcome of the match was inevitable before it started, the spurt by the tall sophomore pretty much closed out the second set.
Geissberger finished with 12 kills in 17 attempts, seven blocks and a service ace. To the Alhambra girls on the other side of the net receiving a couple of her smoking spikes they must have looked like lightning bolts.
“My best effort was against Mitty but I think this was close, but some of my kills were some of the best I’ve ever hit,” said a smiling Geissberger.
Spain has a lot of height, and it produced a team 54.3-preccent kill percentage against Alhambra, but he has Pease, and the daughter of former NCS-winning Larkspur Redwood coach and Absolute Volleyball Club co-director Katie Pease has learned well. Of the 75 points won by Marin Catholic, the 5-foot-7 setter had 38 of the 39 assists, plus five kills on an over the back dink shot, seven digs and a service ace.
“I think what’s very special about this team is we have great chemistry and so many weapons on offense and defense,” Pease said. “We have a lot of tall girls on the team so no matter where I put the ball I know someone will put it away.”
Bergmark finished with eight kills and four blocks, Goodwin added seven kills, and a team high 11 digs. Sophomore 6-foot middle blocker Olivia Cooper chipped in with three kills, including the set two winner on a perfect assist from Pease, the one assist Pease didn’t have, and three blocks. Junior libero Georgia Fusco had nine digs, three aces and only one error in 27 pass attempts.
The Wildcats trailed early in all three sets, including 1-4 in the third on a kill by Alhambra 6-foot-2 junior middle blocker Sterling Parker (12 kills, two blocks), but all in all it was solid outing that ended a 14-match winning streak of Alhambra.
Now, it’s on to the Northern Regional Open Division where the second seed opens at home on Wednesday against CIF Central Coast Section Open Division semifinalist St. Francis of Mountain View.
“We were able to run a lot of different offenses against Alhambra and that was good,” Ramsey said. “Now, for the playoffs, I think we have to stay sharp with our serving and passing and we take it from there.”
A potential second showdown with Mitty in the NorCal Open title game would give Marin Catholic a shot at a state championship, but that’s a long way off and no one in Northern California has been able to beat the Cal-Hi Sports No. 3 ranked Monarchs yet this season other than Carlmont of Belmont in the first tourney of the season. On Friday night, Mitty beat St. Ignatius 3-0 to win the CIF Central Coast Section Open Division title. It was the fourth time Mitty has beaten St. Ignatius this season.
“You said it,” was the response of Spain when asked if it was a little too early to think about Mitty. “We’re just happy about the possibility of getting some home games. We’ve never had a home game in the Open Division.”
Last year, Marin Catholic was given the No. 5 seed and went on the road to fourth-seeded Notre Dame of Belmont and came home a 3-1 winner before falling 3-0 to Mitty in San Jose in the NorCal regional semifinals. In beating St. Ignatius at the Stockton Classic in the semifinals, however, that just about assured that the Wildcats would be the No. 2 seed if there were no stunning upsets in the CCS and NCS playoffs.
Harold Abend is the associate editor of CalHiSports.com and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend