Loretta Kakala is in her second year at Manteca High, but on Thursday she played in just her second match — third if you want to include Monday’s Foundation Game, which does not count against records — for the school’s volleyball team.
“I’m really rusty but I’m glad to be playing again,” Kakala said.
So are the Buffaloes.
The imposing 6-foot-2 middle racked up eight stuff blocks and finished off an exciting five-game victory over visiting Ripon Christian with her 10th kill — a demonstrative strike that landed in the back right corner. Game scores were 22-25, 25-21, 25-18, 14-25, 15-9.
Just two nights prior, the Buffaloes (1-1) dropped their season opener in four games against Livermore, which competes in the highly-competitive East Bay Athletic League of the North Coast Section.
Kakala sat out her entire sophomore season for volleyball because of CIF transfer rules but was able to compete for half a season for both basketball and track. She previously played three varsity sports as a freshman across town for East Union.
“Oh my gosh, it was such a relief,” Kakala said of Thursday’s win. “We fought hard and we talked more. That was one thing we were really lacking (in the Livermore loss) was communication.
“I’m excited,” she added. “Our team chemistry is building and we have a lot of young players.”
Young players, yes, but not necessarily inexperienced. Other than Kakala, 5-10 sophomore Sarah Inderbitzin (seven kills, two blocks) and freshmen Kacy Bolding, Kaitlyn Morenzone (20 assists, six kills) and Payton Reis are among the team’s top newcomers. The underclassmen play on coach Kevin Bolding’s year-round club.
“These girls have been playing for a while so it’s not anything new to them,” coach Bolding said. “They did exactly what we thought they would do.”
They all had their shining moments Thursday. Indertbitzin accounted for three of Manteca’s points in the deciding fifth set, and her block of Ripon Christian’s Lauren DeVries capped the most riveting rally of the match while extending the Buffaloes’ lead to 11-6. Fourth-year senior Morgan Miramontes later set Manteca up with match point, 14-8, after tallying her seventh kill. Hard-hitting sophomore Paige Vos answered with a scoring spike of her own for Ripon Christian (4-3) before Kakala locked up the win.
Miramontes also finished with 17 digs. Senior libero Melissa Hansen led the Buffs with 20 digs.
The influx of young talent has given Bolding and his coaches a good problem to have. Of the 13 players on the roster, 11 played on Thursday.
“Our roster is deep and that’s a good thing,” Bolding said. “Our practices are good and that’s what we tell them is to make it tough on us to decide (who plays). We have a lot of depth. Some nights everybody gets their chance, but we just kind of roll with it and see where it goes.”
Ripon Christian has two sophomores in Bethany Silveira and Vos, but most of the underclassmen lack the year-round experience that Manteca’s youngest players have. The Knights, though, have successful coach Tiger Shelton back to lead the team after he headed the Modesto Junior College women’s squad the past two years. Ripon Christian captured five straight Sac-Joaquin Section Division V championships (2007-11) under Shelton.
“They deserved to win,” Shelton said of Manteca. “They played harder than we did and made some great defensive plays. That was the difference of the game was they never gave up and wanted to win this game.
“We lost to Ripon the same way for our Foundation Game on Monday — in five games. We’ve got to grow up. We’re really, really young all the way around, it’s just a matter of playing a lot of games. It’s a long road but hopefully we’re a lot better when we get to the end.”