Oakdale High varsity volleyball coach Shelli Ponce posed an important question to her team after 12-25, 16-25 defeats in the first two games of their Sac-Joaquin Section Division III semifinal with No. 1 seeded Christian Brothers on Nov 15.
“I asked them if they had worked all year to go home like this and they decided they weren’t ready to go home just yet,” Ponce said. “We came out fighting and they did a total turnaround between games two and three.”
Oakdale erupted for a 25-22 third game win and even took a 24-21 lead in game four, but allowed late Hawks kills to spell a 26-24 Christian Brothers win and 3-1 playoff victory.
“I would have been disappointed if we had lost to them in the way we were playing in those first two games, but the girls played their hearts out and did so well,” Ponce noted of the comeback.
The loss ended a thrilling 21-5 season for Oakdale just one win short of the section finals and a NorCal Championship Tournament qualification. The Lady Mustangs had defeated Vanden and Gregori in consecutive three-game sweeps to reach the semifinals.
Justina Keith led Oakdale with 14 kills and eight service points in the loss to Christian Brothers. Kellie Gratigny added 23 assists with 12 service points and 14 digs while Domi Powell added four kills, seven points and three blocks. McKenzie Willett chipped in five kills, 13 digs and six points while Brittany Salas came through with seven digs. Kaitlin Van Ryn added 15 digs, nine points and six kills.
The game was the final contest in a Mustang uniform for seniors Salas, Willett, Powell and Keith.
Salas shined as a pleasant surprise after a quiet junior season saw limited action and only 49 total digs. She stepped into the libero role her senior year and displayed quick reactions to pop up 248 digs in 23 matches.
“Brittany came out much stronger than I ever expected and stepped into the libero role for us to do a great job,” Ponce said. “She also had a great serving percentage.”
Six foot senior captain McKenzie Willet made big impressions on the court for her timely blocks and kills and her high emotions after such efforts. She finished with 143 kills, 19 blocks and 134 digs.
“When McKenzie got a good kill or block, we could not help but celebrate with her,” Ponce said. “She got so excited and everybody fed off of that.”
Willett’s six-foot counterpart, Powell, was also a team captain. Powell played terrific from every corner of the rotation and finished with 168 kills, 42 aces, 299 points and a team high 49 blocks. Powell had several big blocks to keep the fourth and final against Christian Brothers tight.
“Domi has been like that all year long,” Ponce said. “She is a great force at the net and other teams had to try and figure out how to work around her.”
Keith made news early this season after a quick recovery to a spinal fracture landed her back on the court at the start of Oakdale’s season. She delivered devastating kills throughout the postseason and proved to be a vocal leader worthy of her captain role on the team. Keith led Oakdale with 184 kills and also managed 242 points and 80 digs.
“Justina was our go-to girl for good kills and was a team leader that fired the team up during timeouts,” Ponce said. “She is a great all around player and it was such a huge thing for her teammates to see her drive to get back on the court and be a part of the team.”
Willet, Powell and Keith all landed first team all league honors from the Valley Oak League. Van Ryn (363 points, 135 kills) played terrific to nab second team honors while fellow junior Kellie Gratigny was named an honorable mention setter.
Gratigny had the difficult task of replacing four-year varsity setter Jackee Lee, but played sharp all season to land key assists and also provide a serving threat. She had 342 service points, 565 assists and 12 surprising blocks despite her petite 5-6 frame.
“She stepped into that setter role and took her team to the section semifinals,” Ponce said. “I can’t say enough good things about her. It will be nice to have her back.”