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’Jackets slay Dragons for NCS title

By Jared Green Daily Planet Staff
Monday November 19, 2001

Guilliard-Young dominates with 12 blocks for Berkeley 


Going into Saturday’s North Coast Section Division I championship, Berkeley High senior star Desiree Guilliard-Young had failed to accomplish just two things in her career: win an NCS title and beat Bishop O’Dowd. Mission accomplished. 

Guilliard-Young led the ’Jackets to a dominating straight-game victory, 16-14, 15-6, 15-8, over the top-seeded Dragons, banishing the four-year curse O’Dowd has held over Berkeley. The 6-foot-5 middle hitter had 8 kills and an astounding 12 blocks in the match, supported by eight kills by outside hitter Vanessa Williams and seven kills and three aces from Amalia Jarvis. 

“We worked way too hard to get to the final to lose,” said a giddy Guilliard-Young after the match at Berkeley High’s Donahue Gymnasium. “We weren’t going to let anything get in our way tonight.” 

The main obstacle for the ’Jackets was supposed to be O’Dowd outside hitter Nikki Esposito, who dominated last season’s NCS matchup between the two teams, a straight-game win for the Dragons. But she wasn’t a huge force in Saturday’s match as O’Dowd’s poor execution kept her from getting on track. Bad passing allowed her just 16 swings on the ball, and she finished with 10 kills. 

“Nikki’s our go-to hitter, but we just couldn’t get the ball to her early in the match,” O’Dowd coach Lisa Newman. “We put ourselves in a hole and couldn’t dig our way out.” 

Berkeley head coach Justin Caraway and Guilliard-Young had lost to the Dragons five times in the last four years, and had never taken so much as a game from them. Caraway couldn’t put his finger on any specific factor that led to the remarkable turnaround. 

“I really couldn’t tell you what the difference was tonight,” he said. “We just played point by point.” 

Although the Dragons were the team with more post-season experience (O’Dowd won the NCS title two years ago), Berkeley was the more composed team early. The ’Jackets jumped out to a 10-1 lead in the opening game on the strength of five aces, including two each from Nadia Qabazard and Guilliard-Young, and some uncharacteristic O’Dowd passing errors. 

But the Dragons came roaring back to tie the game at 14-14 after a rash of service errors from both teams. Esposito had five kills in the latter part of the game, but made a critical error when she hit the sideline antenna with a spike, putting the ’Jackets up 15-14. Amalia Jarvis hit her jump serve for an ace to end the game on the next point, and Berkeley had a 1-0 lead. 

The ’Jackets took a quick lead in the following game as well, going up 10-4 as Guilliard-Young started asserting herself at the net with three kills and a block for points. The Dragons settled down a bit on defense at that point, forcing three side-outs, but Berkeley outside hitter Vanessa Williams answered right back with three straight side-out kills to keep the score the same, and O’Dowd fell apart again. Riley Rant hit the net on an attempted block, Esposito spiked a ball into the net and a Dragon pass went out of bounds, and the score was quickly 13-4. Jarvis again provided the finishing touch, bumping a free ball into the back corner of the court for the 15-6 win. 

O’Dowd finally managed to get their hitters going to start the third game, taking a 3-0 lead with kills from Vanessa Vella and Esposito, but Williams again came up with two crucial side-out kills to stop the bleeding. With the score 4-2, Guilliard-Young simply took over the game, racking up two kills and three blocks during an eight-point Berkeley run.  

“I told Desiree before the last game, ‘Own the net. Block it all,’” Caraway said. “She came through with an unbelievable game.” 

Setter Danielle Larue put up two aces, then Williams had another to give the ’Jackets championship point at 14-7. O’Dowd pulled a point back, but Guilliard-Young slammed home a spike for side out, then took a short set from Larue and hit the winner right down the middle, setting off a wild celebration in the packed gym and dog-pile of Berkeley players in the middle of the court. 

“When we started the playoffs, we all said we were going to win it for Des,” Williams said. “She’s trained so hard for four years, we owed it to her to get this win.” 

Berkeley now heads to the Northern California tournament, an eight-team elimination for the right to play the Southern California champion on Dec. 1. The fourth-seeded ’Jackets open at home at 7 p.m. on Tuesday against No. 7-seed San Benito (Hollister) from the Central California Section. O’Dowd also made the tournament as the last seed and will travel to Davis on Tuesday.