Prep volleyball: Empire teams wrap up league races, eye NCS playoffs

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Thursday night’s volleyball slate saw an outright league title for Cardinal Newman for the first time since the school opened to girls, El Molino cruising in its first league title season since 2003 and a thrilling three-set win for Sonoma Valley to rebound from a 1-2 league record to take the crown.

Such highlights by Redwood Empire teams heading into the North Coast Section playoffs are setting up for a sizzling postseason.

El Molino wrapped up its first league title a few matches ago, but finished up its North Bay League Redwood Division schedule with a home win in straight sets against Piner, 25-19, 25-14, 25-13. Sasha Senal led the Lions (24-7, 9-1 NBL-Redwood) with 15 kills and 20 digs. Kassidy Sani had 14 kills, 13 digs and 7 aces and Grace McCormick notched 22 assists, 15 digs and 3 kills.

Lions coach Becky Sani said she doesn’t see her team moving past a projected No. 4 seed in NCS, and not going below likely No. 5 seed Roseland (a team they’ve beaten several times) but thinks her team can take down the likely No. 1 seed, University of San Francisco.

But before the Lions can worry about the top dog, they’ll have to face likely No. 13 seed St. Vincent-St. Patrick’s of Vallejo, who eliminated them last year.

The Bruins eliminated El Molino after the Lions were forced to travel to Vallejo — despite having a better record than St. Vincent-St. Pat’s — because the East Bay school won their league title.

Sani cited her team’s increased ability and senior leadership with Senal and daughter Kassidy Sani for thinking this year’s contest will be a more winnable matchup.

As for the top seed, Cardinal Newman coach Jeff Nielson said he’s going to petition for it, citing the Cardinals’ wins against Montgomery — including on Thursday in straight sets, 25-19, 25-15, 25-15 — and University’s loss to the Vikings in a tournament.

“I think we’ve worked hard to get to that point,” he said. “At some point but we have to play everybody, but it’s certainly nice to be at home throughout the playoffs.”

Cassie Taylor led the Cardinals on Thursday (24-5, 9-1 NBL-Oak) with 15 kills. Cami Loxley had eight kills and six assists, Julia Donlon had five kills, Kimi Waller notched five kills, six aces and 21 assists, and Lauren Vice had 14 digs.

Sonoma Valley finished off an incredible nine-game league win streak (after starting its Vine Valley Athletic League schedule 1-2) with a nail-biting straight-set win against Petaluma, 27-25, 25-18, 27-25.

The Dragons (14-5, 10-2 VVAL) had to win against Petaluma on Thursday and Vintage on Wednesday for atleast a share of the league crown. Sonoma Valley and Vintage will be co-champions, but Perkins said the Dragons won a tiebreaker determined before the season started that gives them the right to be the league champion representative from the VVAL in the Division 3 NCS playoffs.

Maria Carrillo also finished its league schedule Thursday with a five-set win against Windsor, 25-14, 25-17, 23-25, 20-25, 15-9.

Lindsay Heller led the way for the Pumas (22-10, 8-2 NBL-Oak) with 13 kills, 24 assists and 20 digs, Beth Orosz had 18 kills and Anna Kenebel notched nine kills, five blocks and two aces. On the defensive side of things, Hailey Madsen had 50 digs, Sophia Ramazotti 31 digs, Sylvie Thivault 28 digs and Sophie Nied 22 assists.

Coach Chris Woodbury said she isn’t sure of her team’s seeding, but she is happy to see the team rebound from a not-so-great 2018 to be in the postseason this year. She believes they will host at least one game in the NCS Division 2 playoffs.

The first round of the North Coast Section playoffs is Tuesday and Wednesday, at the sites of the team with higher seeds in the division bracket. The quarterfinals for all divisions will be on Saturday, Nov. 2 and the semifinals on Wednesday, Nov. 6 for all divisions. The finals will take place on Saturday, Nov. 9.

The NCS is allotted 25 entries into the CIF state NorCal championships, which start Nov. 12.

The lone Redwood Empire volleyball champion from last year was Calistoga, which won the Division VI title against Jewish Community High School of the Bay in four sets. The Wildcats ended up losing to Redding Christian in the NorCal tourney.

The lone other school to reach the section semifinals was Kelseyville, losing to Head-Royce in straight sets.

Prior to Calistoga’s title, Sonoma Valley was the last Redwood Empire school to win a section title, taking the Division 3 crown in 2014.

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