Championship hopes left the Oak Ridge gym with the third-seeded St. Mary’s volleyball team Tuesday night as the visiting Rams knocked the Lady Trojans out of the playoffs with a three-set 25-22, 25-23, 25-11 sweep in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinals.
“St. Mary’s is a very strong program,” said Oak Ridge coach Becky Potter a day after the match. “But mostly, we just wanted it too badly. My girls have so much heart and it was hard for them to contain their nervous energy.”
No. 2 Oak Ridge played hard and with spirit in the match-opener. Senior Haley Simmons and junior Tara McDermott demonstrated great teamwork in game 1 that had the spectators cheering and chanting. That, combined with top-notch play from juniors Mysha Davies and Amelia Crye, kept the Trojans in the game. They were up 14-8 before the Rams regrouped and ramped up.
Short St. Mary’s runs and some unlucky play on Troy’s side of the net put the Rams back in control and in the lead. Down 19-24, the Trojans looked poised for a come-from-behind victory thanks to three Ram errors but an Oak Ridge kill that landed out of bounds put the victory in St. Mary’s column.
The teams played evenly at the start of the second game to keep the score close. Simmons and Crye capitlized on McDermott’s sets to deliver powerful kills. Troy took a slim 12-10 lead but couldn’t hold on against St. Mary’s strenghth at the net. After warming up in the first game the Rams sent torpedoes over that had the Trojans diving to the floor and coming up empty.
Crye and Davies went to work to help Troy close the gap and Oak Ridge went up by a point on senior Arden Zuber’s tip, starting a back-and-forth trading of points. St. Mary’s tied it but Cyre answered with a kill. The Rams responded with a three-point run to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
After stepping outside to rekindle their fire, the Trojans returned to the court but the outlook appeared dim as St. Mary’s jumped on the dispirited Trojans to take a commanding 18-6 lead.
Potter could be heard shouting “don’t give up” from the bench but too many errors and an aggressive Rams’ defense made it hard for Oak Ridge to get any momentum. The Trojans had no answer for the sharp kills the Rams unleashed, and St. Mary’s blocking successfully grounded Troy’s big hitters.
After the match, the last for Oak Ridge’s four seniors — Simmons, Zuber, Stephanie Guest and Alexa Becker — Potter abruptly led her team out of the gym to absorb the loss.
“I am so proud of all my girls, particularly my seniors, who led this squad so well and never gave up,” Potter said. “My team deserves “most improved” more than any other team in the area. I will miss this group terribly; they were funny, kind, bright, talented girls and were, by far, my favorite team to have coached so far.
“Next year will be tough,” she continued. “We are losing four seniors and a foreign exchange student. Three of those kids are starters, two of them being middles. The younger girls are going to have some big shoes to fill, but I think some of our current juniors are ready for the task.”
St. Mary’s heads to Power Balance Pavilion Thursday to play formidable St. Francis, the top seed in Division I, for the section title.