Last Thursday against Contra Costa Christian High, the St. Mary’s women’s volleyball team relied on their serves for an easy win. On Tuesday night against the El Cerrito Gauchos, a balanced attack enabled the Panthers to corral a three-set victory (15-3, 15-6, 15-9) and expand upon their undefeated record (4-0, 0-0).
“It’s always good to get ahead early, play all your players…be well tuned for the start of league play,” noted St. Mary’s head coach Herman Shum. Indeed, every single Panther participated and contributed to Tuesday’s victory. Sophomore Jazmin Pratt, tabbed as “one to look for” by her head coach, had a solid all-around game with 16 serve attempts, 10 spikes, six aces, four digs, and three kills. Ronice Sweet led all Panthers with 14 spikes, four kills and two blocks, while Elisabeth Carr racked up a team high 17 serve attempts. Suzanne Vendil tied Pratt’s team high total of six aces on just eleven serve attempts, making her the most efficient ace player of the night. Defensive buffs would have loved to watch both Kristina Shapona and Karen Sommers — each player kicked in three digs apiece.
The Panthers stormed out of the gates in the first set with an 8-2 lead. The Gauchos tried to sway momentum within their favor with a sideout and a successful point. But Pratt quickly gave the serve back to the Panthers with a Jordanesque jump and a screaming spike. From that point on, the Panthers rallied off seven straight points and a first set win.
Things got a little hairy in the second set as El Cerrito played tough early and tied the score at five points apiece. But timely aces by the Panthers and emphatic spikes by Pratt, Sweet and Carr enabled St. Mary’s to garner 10 of the next 11 points, and the Panthers wrapped up a 15-6 second set victory.
It appeared to be easy sailing for the Panthers ship in the third and final set. A major player was team captain Kristina Shapona, who has successfully recovered from an ACL injury in her sophomore season and is an inspiration to her own team. The Panthers rattled off three points on her at serve and cruised to an 8-1 lead. But two Gaucho rallies led to a heated battle that almost reached disastrous proportions for the Panthers. Faced with a nine-point deficit, El Cerrito hustled to pull within six points at 11-5. The Panthers clawed their way back to a nine-point lead at 14-5, but the Gauchos immediately corralled four consecutive points behind a fired up squad whose voices during hits resembled a young Monica Seles. El Cerrito could not muster more than nine points and the Panthers held on for a 15-9 win and their fourth victory in as many games.
“The girls expected to do well,” stated St. Mary’s head coach Herman Shum. “El Cerrito is the best team we’ve played and we’ve been able to raise our performance every single week.” The success of the Panthers is not lost on the student body, as senior spectator David Rodriguez notes that the team “is doing really well and has caught people’s eyes.” If they continue to play at this level, opponents may not be able to catch the Panthers in the win column.