Manteca battled valiantly with a starter hobbled by injury and another out for the season, but the Buffaloes could not keep up with the taller, more athletic Jaguars from Kimball in a 22-25, 23-25, 20-25 loss Monday at Winter Gym.
Payton Reis, the team’s top outside hitter, is already done for the season with a knee injury, and libero Tawny Deerinck — who moved to the outside after Reis went down — did not play until the third game. Deerinck sprained an ankle during a recent practice.
“Even with a couple of people out we’re still right there,” Manteca coach Kevin Bolding said. “Last year we were luckily enough not to have injuries, but this year it was the opposite. But it’s no excuse, it’s just something you have to deal with.”
The defeat severely hampers the Buffaloes’ postseason chances, even with third-place Central Catholic dropping a four-set match to Valley Oak League champion Oakdale on Monday. Manteca (8-5 VOL, 14-7 overall) will need some help from struggling Sierra — travels to Central Catholic on Wednesday — to have a shot. Only three teams qualifying for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs. The Buffs host East Union for their regular-season finale.
Manteca was a favorite to advance after doing so last season with three freshman starters.
“We just have to keep grinding, getting better and improve each time out,” Bolding said. “Our program is taking those steps, but it’s tough because everybody wants them to be giant steps.”
Manteca tried going toe to toe with Kimball’s pair of 6-foot-2 giants in Yasmin Niijar (seven kills, six blocks) and Lauren Hicks (seven kills), but it was the stellar all-around play of 5-10 outside hitter/setter Madison Howard who anchored the second-place Jaguars. Howard wound up with 14 kills, 19 assists and 16 digs.
As tough as Kimball (11-2, 15-13) was on the front row, it was an impressive defensive effort that got it going after a sloppy start. Manteca jumped out to an 8-3 lead but was unable to take advantage of seven service errors from Kimball.
“We gave them some chances from the service line, but the girls rallied back into it,” Kimball coach Mike Nunes said. “It started with the defense. They picked up some balls unexpectedly. Manteca made some great plays that I thought was going to be points for them, but our back row just came alive and really started battling for balls.”
Manteca also had early leads in the final two sets but could not string enough points together to win them. The Buffaloes struggled to get their offense in gear for most of the night, much of it having to do with Kimball’s size advantage and scrappy back-row play.
Rhiannon Genilla led Manteca with eight kills and five digs. Kacy Bolding contributed six kills and seven assists, Destanie Elliott pounded five kills and Sarah Inderbitzin tallied four kills and three blocks.
“A lot of those balls go down against other teams, but they’re digging it up and putting it back at you,” Bolding said. “That’s the kind of attitude you have to have for this game, you have to want the ball on defense.
“Passing and defense is huge and it determines what level you play at. Some nights we play at a high level and some nights we don’t. We have to become more consistent with that. It’s a process and it takes time. If it was easy everybody would be doing it.”