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’Jackets outlast Castro Valley in a thriller

By Jared Green, Daily Planet Staff
Friday November 16, 2001

Berkeley to face nemesis O’Dowd for NCS championship Saturday 


Two games into their North Coast Section semi-final against Castro Valley on Thursday, the Berkeley High Yellowjackets looked dead in the water. They had lost the opening games in lackluster fashion, looking slow and tentative. Considering the ’Jackets had broken through to win their first NCS game in four years on Tuesday, they couldn’t have been blamed for packing it up and calling it a season. 

But instead of being satisfied with one NCS win, they roared back to make it two, with the final looming on Saturday. With each of the last three games a battle to the end, Berkeley pulled out a marathon win, 7-15, 9-15, 15-12, 15-13, 16-14 in two hours and forty-five minutes. 

The win tested Berkeley’s resolve more than any other match this season. After blowing through the ACCAL undefeated for the second year in a row, Berkeley head coach Justin Caraway wasn’t sure his players had it in them to come back in such a dramatic fashion. 

“Truthfully? No,” Caraway said when asked if he thought his team would come back from a two-game deficit. “I thought you could stick a fork in us, because we were done.” 

Coming up huge for Berkeley was outside hitter Vanessa Williams. The junior, playing on an injured ankle, led the team with 19 kills, including five in the final rally-scoring game and the final point of the match. Usually a complementary hitter to 6-foot-5 middle blocker Desiree Guilliard-Young, Williams took 42 swings at the ball, more than Guilliard-Young or any other player on the court on Thursday. 

“Vanessa was just huge in the last game,” Berkeley head coach Justin Caraway said. “She’s streaky, and she just has to settle down and play point by point.” 

Guilliard-Young had 14 kills in the match to go with 8 blocks, and outside hitter Amalia Jarvis had 11 kills and 10 digs. Setter Danielle Larue, playing with her right thumb heavily taped due to injury, had 42 assists and 10 digs. The Berkeley offense, designed to go through Guilliard-Young as often as possible, showed unusual versatility against the Trojans. 

Castro Valley, on the other hand, was forced to constantly funnel the ball to senior Alexis Kollias, and Kollias seemed to tire in the final game. Despite finishing with a game-high 22 kills (nearly half her team’s total), Kollias was called for two critical infractions in the last four points of the match. First, with the score tied at 13-13, she brushed the net on a spike, giving Berkeley the point. After the Trojans tied the score again at 14-14, Kollias was called for a double-hit on a pass, and Berkeley had a 15-14 lead. Williams finished the match with a spike right down the middle of the Castro Valley defense, and Berkeley was through to the final. 

Both coaches were unhappy with the officiating in the match, but the questionable calls seemed to even out in the end. 

“The refereeing was very inconsistent, and I think that hurt us more as the younger team,” said Castro Valley coach Shari Cabral. “He made calls periodically that killed the momentum, and it was hard for us to get it back.” 

Caraway agreed that the officiating was inconsistent, going so far as to file a protest during the third game. 

“The referee affected the outcome of the match much more than he should have,” Caraway said. “We got some calls that helped us out, but so did (Castro Valley).” 

The ’Jackets’ opponent in that final will be top-seeded Bishop O’Dowd, which defeated Deer Valley in the other semi-final. The match will be at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Berkeley High. 

The Dragons have been a thorn in Berkeley’s side for the last two seasons, knocking the ’Jackets out in the first round of the playoffs last year and beating them soundly this season. In fact, Berkeley hasn’t beaten O’Dowd since Caraway became the coach five years ago. 

“We have some kind of mental block when it comes to O’Dowd, but hopefully it’s something we can work through,” Caraway said. “We just have to settle down and understand that we can play with the top teams in the region and come away winners.” 

Guilliard-Young, for one, is confident that O’Dowd’s winning streak over the ’Jackets can end on Saturday. 

“We know exactly what to expect from them,” she said. “If we can beat Castro Valley, we can beat O’Dowd.”