By Graham Henderson
With two games already won, University High School was only one point away from winning the fourth game and with it the Bay Counties League West championship.
But top-seeded Marin Academy (25-5), which finished league play undefeated, was able to hold off three match point serves to stay alive and win the fourth game 30-28, en route to a 17-25, 21-25, 25-17, 30-28, 15-11 win on Saturday at International High School.
The teams had met twice in the regular season, with the Wildcats besting University (18-8) both times in five games, giving the Red Devils their only league losses.
University started out strong, capitalizing on Wildcats mistakes.
“The first two games for us were awesome,” said University outside hitter Katherine Evers. “We played really well together as a team.”
Evers led the Red Devils with 12 kills and was one half of the battle between the two teams’ power hitters. Senior Savanah Leaf represented the Wildcats with 25 kills.
Both hitters were a threat even from the backcourt, and if either got a clean hit on the ball, a point was a near-certainty.
But Leaf had only five kills in each of the first two games and struggled with accuracy early in the match, often hitting balls into the net or out of bounds.
“At the end of game two, I thought that if didn’t start getting some points and playing with some passion that we weren’t going to win,” Leaf said. “We kind of have a curse, we’ve been so close the past seven years, so this year we just went all out.”
Marin Academy head coach Craig Wong said that while he was tense during the match, he trusted his team to know what to do.
“We just needed to play well for a little stretch and that’s what happened in game three,” Wong said. “We got a little momentum and they just regained their confidence.”
After dropping a hard-fought fourth game, Evers knew that her team was facing an uphill battle.
“We have a history of losing to them in game five,” she said. “Our service team kind of fell through, which isn’t good, and we ended up losing.”
But while the Red Devils did ultimately give up the deciding, it was not without a battle. Even trailing 14-11, University did not give up any points easily.
“This match was absolutely amazing,” said University head coach Ki Choi. “It could have gone either way. Everybody had their chances. I wouldn’t expect anything less than [Marin Academy] and University go five games with the history that we have.”
Only after a long volley was Natalie Wildenradt able to connect to win the championship for the Wildcats.
“It meant so much, I knew I had to just go up there with everything I had,” she said. “When I contacted it, I knew it was going be a good hit. It dropped, and I was just so excited,” she said.
Wildenradt finished the match with 12 kills.
With the win, Marin Academy is automatically qualified for the CIF-North Coast Section playoffs, but University will likely qualify with an at-large bid as well.
“A loss like this is tough, and these kids are kind of reeling over that,” Choi said. “But come Monday, it’s in the past and we’re going to move on. When it comes to NCS, it’s a clean slate.”