Some postseason magic carried eighth seeded Oakdale High to a spirited 3-1 rout of No. 9 seed Pioneer in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs on Nov. 6, but happy thoughts couldn’t do the trick in a 3-0 loss to No. 1 seed Oakmont two days later.
The defeat brought an abrupt end to a sterling season from varsity volleyballers that recorded a 19-5 overall record and played to a thrilling 13-1 co-Valley Oak League championship.
“Everyone was disappointed, especially the seniors, because it hit them that it was their last match,” Oakdale coach Shelli Ponce said of the Thursday finale. “But we talked about it being an accomplishment just to make it to section playoffs.
“While other teams were done we were practicing and competing.”
Pioneer entered the first postseason contest as a dangerous seed in Division III, considering they were runners-up in the Division II Tri-County Conference and boast the talents of middle blocker Ashton Kershner, a senior entertaining recruitment offers for both volleyball and track and field.
But being nearly 100 miles away from Oakdale didn’t give Kershner relief from opposing game-planning, despite the difficulty involved. Ponce and Co. had done their research on Pioneer prior to the contest, and came in with a strategy to remove Kershner from the equation.
“Anytime we go into the playoffs we look at different team stats, which is one of the benefits of (maxpreps.com),” coach Ponce said. “However Pioneer didn’t have any stats on maxpreps, so went and looked at some of their local newspaper articles and we saw they had one star player.
“We keyed on her. I think she wasn’t able to do enough and we stopped her with our blocks and our digging. Anytime you are able to stop a key player, it frustrates not just her, but the team as well.”
With Kershner struggling to dominate the net amidst the pressure Oakdale presented her, Mustang hitters were able to rally to 25-21, 25-18, 23-25 and 25-20 scores against the visiting Patriots.
The team got 10 kills from sophomore Jenifer Guzman, who joined the team at the end of the year to help fill a void left by injured outside hitter Brittany Carpenter. Kaitlin Van Ryn also managed 10 kills with 10 service points and 16 digs while Kelsey McIntyre added 10 kills and 10 points. Kyla Lewis (14 digs) added 15 points while Marissa MacDonald delivered 13 and Kellie Gratigny (27 assists, 21 digs) scored nine. Madison Ault chipped in 18 digs.
Oakdale then struggled to 9-25, 10-25, 19-25 losses to top-seeded Oakmont a round later, despite a team-leading five kills from Guzman.
“I have to give great credit to Jen Guzman, because she did a great job to come up from the JV team and hold her own in the playoffs,” Ponce said. “One of the things that was commendable about this team is that they were very welcoming of Jen and making her feel welcome.
“We made a bad situation into a good one.”
McIntyre also managed five kills in the loss to Oakmont. Van Ryn and McDonald both had two kills while Kelsey McIntyre chipped in three. Ault had six service points and 11 digs while Gratigny chipped in 10 assists, five digs and four points.
Gratigny was a stunning first-team omission from the recent All Valley Oak League meeting. She was a second-team selection, despite recording 401 assists, 187 digs and 209 points, leading Oakdale to a 37-6 advantage of games won during conference play. She had more reported points and digs than the rest of the league setters and even factored into Oakdale’s kill total (32). It was her acrobatic saves that single-handedly kept points alive during Oakdale’s biggest league win, a 3-2 upset of Sonora. Gratigny was second in total assists (401) to Manteca’s Ashley Gase who landed 424 assists in 19 more games played.
Oakdale’s first team All VOL selections were awarded to Van Ryn, Ault, Hayley McIntyre and Kelsey McIntyre.