There was no quit in the East Union and Lathrop volleyball teams Monday at Dalben Center, where the two clubs were engaged in a nip-and-tuck battle to open Valley Oak League play.
In the end, it was the Lancers of host East Union that prevailed in a wild five-set marathon — 23-25, 25-20, 27-25, 21-25, 15-11 — with Isabel Marmolejo providing the clinching point with a kill.
“Everybody was telling us we should beat Lathrop, but looking at their (scores) we knew they weren’t going to be a walk in the park,” said East Union senior setter Vanessa Cuellar, who contributed seven kills. “It was a huge relief to get this (win), especially with us starting out league here at home.”
Lathrop (0-1 VOL, 0-6 overall) led 6-3 early in the fifth set but had seven unforced errors the rest of the way, including three missed serves. The Spartans earlier had a chance to put the pivotal third game away with a 24-21 advantage, but East Union came back to steal thanks to a three-point service run from Janika Gomes. Cuellar had a spike and tip during that stretch, and Marmolejo had a kill.
“Our girls are still green and not used to these pressure games,” Lathrop coach Heather Scharmann said,. “That’s why I put together a tough preseason schedule. We’re prepared but we just have to finish. We had a bunch of mental errors and missed a few serves. We have the fight and we have the physical talent, we just need to gain the mental ability to finish when we are down.”
Lathrop, to its credit, didn’t emotionally shut down after letting the third game slip away and falling behind 3-0 early in the fourth. Recent sophomore call-up Mary Cotton had one of her match-high six blocks to give the Spartans game point, and Fasha Hayes (13 assists, six aces) closed it out with an ace to force the deciding fifth set.
“This showed us and hopefully the VOL that we have some fight in us,” Anderson said. “We’re not the Lathrop that everyone sees on their schedule and assumes they’re going to win. We go into every match with something to prove.
“We didn’t finish tonight but hopefully we proved to something to the team’s we’re going to play. The good news is that we play everyone in the VOL twice and we’re really looking forward to having them back at our house.”
East Union had a big effort from middle blocker Sophie Williams, who led the team with 12 kills including two consecutive that sealed Game 2 for the Lancers. Laessa Pierce contributed 15 digs and four aces, Janika Gomes picked up 21 digs and Ragan Fowzer had four blocks.
First-year East Union head coach Kim Brooks prepared her team with a rugged nonleague schedule that included juggernauts in Lincoln of Stockton and Pitman of Turlock.
“We scheduled some Division I schools so they could nitpick our weaknesses and show us what we need to work on in practice,” she said. “Tonight, we had to make a lot of adjustments and we still have a lot to work on, but we’re coming a long way.”
Malia Akers (three blocks) and Cotton fired nine kills apiece to pace the Spartans’ balanced attack which included Myani Thornton (seven kills), Juliana Denning (six kills) and Joy Bautista (six kills). Setter Karina Chavez pitched in with 16 assists.
The recent addition of Cotton has improved Lathrop as evidenced by her sometimes-dominant performance Monday.
“Mary is an athlete, and you can’t train someone to be as athletic as Mary,” Anderson said. “She’s the girl who always wants the kill and always wants the block. She’s aggressive and she really stepped up. I don’t think she’s intimidated by playing up, and I think she plays better on varsity than she did on JV because she’s challenged. She’s a sophomore, but the girls really look to her to be a leader on the court.”
Anderson is looking forward to Wednesday’s home match with Sierra, her alma mater. East Union, meanwhile, welcomes Kimball.