Girls Volleyball: St. Ignatius holds off Union Mine in state-playoff opener

St. Ignatius junior outside hitter Claire Healy puts the ball past Union Mine blockers in the first round of the Division III CIF State Tournament on Tuesday at St. Ignatius. (Photo by Eric Soracco)

By Bonta Hill

For the St. Ignatius girls volleyball team, the equation is simple — get four wins and earn the first state championship in school history.

Of course, that’s easier said than done, but the Wildcats are one step closer to that elusive state title after defeating seventh-seeded Union Mine High School 25-16, 25-11, 19-25, 25-23 in the first round of the Division III CIF State Tournament on Tuesday at St. Ignatius.

The Wildcats (33-7) earned the second seed in the Northern California bracket after defeating Sacred Heart Cathedral on Saturday, to capture the school’s first-ever CIF-Central Coast Section championship.

St. Ignatius senior Christina Lee (5) and junior Michellie McDonald-O'Brien (17) rise up to block a Union Mine attack on Tuesday at St. Ignatius. (Photo by Eric Soracco)

St. Ignatius head coach Lisa Becerra admitted after the game on Saturday that it was tough to come off that emotional high.

“It was hard to come off of Saturday’s match, because it was awesome. Plus, there is a little bit of nerves that come with that,” Becerra said. “Everybody who came in and played today contributed well.”

The Wildcats and their potent team attack dominated the first two games, led by junior Claire Healy, who had nine kills and two aces in the first two games. Healy finished with a team-high 15 kills.

“There is nobody on this team that doesn’t want to go to [the state championship], and we’re all looking forward to that,” Healy said. “We played pretty scrappy throughout the game.”

The Wildcats ran into a familiar problem, however, as at times during the season, they’ve let up and let opponents gain momentum.

The Diamondbacks (28-4), which were led by Mikayla Tucker, the Sierra Valley Conference’s most valuable player, took the third game after the Wildcats committed eight unforced errors.

St. Ignatius then jumped out to a 20-13 lead in the decisive fourth game before holding off a furious Diamondbacks rally to advance to the second round.

“We’ve never been here before so their were some nerves,” Becerra said. “We played well in the [first two games], and I think in the final two games, we were like, ‘Oh my god, we might do this,’ and we slipped up a little bit.”

Union Mine head coach Mike Yates also brought a team with limited experience, and said it took his team two games to shake off the rust from the 131-mile bus ride from El Dorado.

“We needed the time to get [into] the situation, as none of my players have been in this situation before,” Yates said. “Once we got settled into what we wanted to do, we were fine, but you can’t start off in game three and expect to win against a team of that caliber.”

The Wildcats are only three matches from that deeply-sought state title, but will host third-seeded Drake (35-6) on Saturday in the second round and on the other half of the bracket lurks a fourth-seeded Sacred Heart Cathedral squad that is seeking redemption. The Irish (28-12) defeated Vista del Lago in five games on Tuesday and will travel to top-seeded Campolindo (31-3) on Saturday.

“This is the NorCal tournament and nothing is going to be easy, and Union Mine came down here and gave us a scare,” Becerra said. “That’s why they made it here though, and we understand that. Next game we are going to have move it up one gear.”

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