WEDNESDAY, AUG. 29
Oakdale at Enochs, freshmen 4 p.m., JV 5 p.m., varsity 6 p.m.
FRIDAY, AUG. 31
Oakdale at High Sierra Tourney
SATURDAY, SEPT. 1
Oakdale at High Sierra Tourney
TUESDAY, SEPT. 4
Escalon at Oakdale, freshmen 4 p.m., JV 5 p.m., varsity 6 p.m.
The daunting forms of six foot blockers Domi Powell and McKenzie Willett still cast shadows on the hardwood inside the Oakdale High gymnasium.
Tall, agile and powerful, the pair attacked the volleyball net like a wildfire in 2011 as Oakdale rallied to a 22-6 season and semifinal appearance in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs.
That fire burned out when the pair departed via graduation in May, but the 12 girls on Oakdale’s 2012-13 roster have picked up the torch this fall with no plans to let Oakdale’s run of 16 consecutive playoff appearances extinguish on their watch.
Oakdale lacks their traditional height (middle hitters Hayley McIntyre and Kelsey McIntyre are the tallest at 5-11), but return four starters and stellar setter Kellie Gratigny to lead the way.
Gratigny was a surprise highlight on a 2011 squad that experienced life without four-year setter sensation Jackie Lee, who had graduated in 2010. The apt sets of Gratigny allowed hitters Powell, Willett and Justina Keith to combine for 495 kills last year as Oakdale powered to a runner-up league finish and advanced farther into the postseason than league champ Sonora did in a lower division bracket.
Oakdale’s fourth-leading hitter, Kaitlin Van Ryn (135 kills, 67 aces in 2011), is the new expected target of Gratigny’s passes, along with the McIntyre sisters (80 kills combined).
“I think we have an amazing team this year,” Gratigny said on Sunday. “We lost some good hitters but our juniors coming up have replaced them.
“I really think we can make it far into the playoffs.”
Gratigny’s role on the team isn’t quite what it was last year. Her sets have to be pin-point on a new offensive system that makes up for Oakdale’s absence of power at the net and utilizes a strong cast of passers and outside hitters. The presence of returning libero Madison Ault will help, while junior defensive specialists Leah Burchell and Kyla Lewis (also an outside hitter) expect to make serious contributions to the program.
“There are a lot of different plays we have to run because of our (lack of height),” Oakdale coach Shelli Ponce said on Sunday. “We just have to run a quicker offense, which will require Kellie to always be on her toes and communicate with our hitters.”
Ponce said this group of girls was very quick to bond and work together this offseason. She feels Oakdale’s always stiff defense and quickness can make up for any missing pieces at the net. She said Gratigny’s veteran control of the team will be pivotal. It’s not a new concept to her senior setter.
“I feel like I have a big responsibility this year to lead the hitters and be somebody that the other players can look to on the court,” Gratigny said. “Coach Ponce wants me to pump up the team, get them excited, focused and keep everybody on their toes.”
Oakdale opened the 2012 season with host Pitman on Tuesday, though results were not available at press time. The Mustangs are at 2011 Modesto Metro Conference champions, Enochs, today, Aug. 29.