By Jeremy Balan
SAN RAFAEL — Two things have been certain in the Marin Academy-University girls volleyball rivalry in recent years — Every match will go five games and Marin Academy will come out on top.
That is exactly what has happened in the teams’ previous six meetings, including the Bay Counties League West title game this season, until visiting University shocked second-seeded Marin Academy 24-26, 25-23, 25-18, 17-25, 15-9 in the CIF-North Coast Section Division V semifinals on Wednesday.
“It feels like a weight has been lifted. We finally did it,” said University head coach Ki Choi. “It’s such a great rivalry and to have something like that is tremendous. It wouldn’t be an MA-University match if it didn’t go five.”
The match did go to five games, and in the deciding game, it was the players who have been leading the Red Devils (23-8) all season that came through. Junior outside hitter Katherine Evers had three of her team-high 14 kills in the fifth game and senior Katie Kirkland made a block on the final point to seal the game 15-9.
“Everything just fell into place. It was just amazing,” Kirkland said. “It was the best match we’ve played all season and it’s just huge that it came against MA. I know for me and all of my fellow seniors, it’s just the best feeling.”
With the win, University will face top-seeded Branson (28-7) in the NCS finals on Saturday at College of Marin, but the Red Devils also received a bid to the CIF state championship tournament.
“It means a lot to this program [to be in the state tournament],” Choi said. “If we didn’t have to play Marin Academy to get into it, I feel every year we would be in contention. Finally we did it and now we get to show how good we are to the rest of Division V.”
University prevailed, but the match was dominated in many aspects by a transcendent performance from Marin Academy standout outside hitter Savanah Leaf.
The San Jose State-bound senior had a match-high 34 kills, 22 more than the rest of her team combined and just short of University’s team total of 37.
“I can’t say enough about her,” said Marin Academy head coach Craig Wong. “She played like a senior tonight and was just amazing offensively. It’s frustrating that we were on this side of it, but you have to tip your hat to her. She really left it all out there.”
With the loss, Marin Academy breaks a three-year streak of state tournament appearances.
“A season ending is never easy, but for it to happen at home against a rival, it stings a little bit more,” Wong said.
Photo slideshow by AJ Canaria