It’s been a season of “first time since” for Manteca’s girls volleyball team.
Tonight, they are looking to reach a Sac-Joaquin Section final for the first time since finishing as the Division II runner-up in 1989 and 1990. It won’t be easy, as they travel to square off with longtime powerhouse and Division III top seed Sonora (23-7).
Ripon Christian (18-14), meanwhile, gets a much shorter trip in its quest to pad its section lead of 15 overall championships. The Southern League runner-up heads to No. 2 Big Valley Christian (28-5) in Modesto for its Division VI semifinal.
For Manteca, it’s making its first semifinal-round appearance since the 2002 team did it as a No. 13 seed. The fourth-seeded Buffaloes (24-8) have also claimed their first Valley Oak League title since 1991. The VOL has been dominated by the likes of Sonora, now in the Mother Lode League, and Oakdale in the past two-plus decades.
Manteca knows what it’s up against tonight having already faced the Wildcats in the Stockton Classic on Oct. 14. Sonora claimed the best-of-three contest, 19-25, 20-25, 8-15. The Buffs are coming off a sweep of dangerous No. 12 seed Placer led by impressive 6-foot-3 outside hitter Amy Hiatt.
“We’re way more comfortable going into this match,” Manteca junior setter Kaitlyn Morenzone said following the Placer match. “We know some of their hitters and passers, their strengths and weaknesses. We didn’t play our best in that tournament but we’re going to bring it out this time.”
Sonora owns three section titles, all coming in succession (2013-15) in Division IV. The Wildcats were promoted to Division III last year due to the “continued success” rule and were swept by Christian Brothers in the final, but they later stunned top-seeded Miramonte in five games to advance to the CIF Northern California Regional Championships final.
Manteca will have to counter another heavy-handed outside hitter in 5-9 Pacific commit Riley Patterson, who paced the Wildcats with 10 kills and 19 digs in their previous meeting with the Buffs.
“We have to play better defense against them,” Manteca coach Kevin Bolding said. “Their one big girl, you can take her out of the match and she’ll hit it from the bench — she can hit it from everywhere. If we can do the same thing we did (last Thursday against Placer) we give ourselves a chance, and at this point that’s all we ask.
“It’s like I told the girls, you play hard and let the chips fall where they fall. We got here by doing certain things and we’re here for a reason, so let’s take advantage of it and have fun. We’re just riding the wave right now.”
Ripon Christian, the sixth seed in the Division VI bracket, will need to pull off another upset for a final-round berth. Last Thursday, the Knights squeaked past No. 3 Sacramento Country Day 28-26, 23-25, 25-27, 25-11, 15-12 behind Paige Vos’ 30 kills and Taylor Alger’s 50 assists.
Big Valley Christian is seeking its first championship-round appearance. The Lions went undefeated in the Central California Athletic Association and are led by outside hitters Evelyn Raingruber and Annabelle Camoirano, who each average 3.2 kills per set.
The Divisions III and VI finals are set for Saturday at sites and times yet to be determined.