It felt like several minutes had passed, but Oakdale High’s varsity volleyball team finally did ‘get to the point’ of their Valley Oak League statement on Oct. 3.
A back and forth stanza outlasted hit after hit for countless fifth-game possessions, but a kill from Brittany Carpenter slipped past Sonora defenders for a 16-14 victory and thrilling 3-2 home win over the Wildcats to vault the Lady Mustangs into sole possession of the conference lead.
“I didn’t even know what was going on until the ball hit the floor,” Carpenter (15 kills, seven service points, 10 digs) said afterwards. “A point that long is pretty mentally and physically exhausting, but you have to keep your head in the game and focus on every little detail.”
After the two teams split the first four games, Sonora appeared in control of the fifth with leads of 3-0, 8-5 and 11-7, but couldn’t stop a barrage of kills from Carpenter and Kaitlin Van Ryn (15 kills, 16 points, 16 digs) as Oakdale rallied to six straight points and a 13-11 lead. With the game tied at 14-14, Van Ryn powered home a kill for the game point. Carpenter’s hit at the end of a long point sent the Oakdale crowd into pandemonium.
“If anybody watched that last point, it just tells you what this whole match was like — it was a battle,” Oakdale coach Shelli Ponce said. “There at the end when Sonora would give us a free ball or easy pass where we could get passes set up my heart started pumping because I knew that set was going to either Brittany or Kaitlin and I knew they would put it away.
“It’s nice to have that confidence in my hitters.”
The win avenged two 3-2 losses in 2011 that eliminated Oakdale’s titles hopes and forced the Mustangs to accept a lower seed into the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
“We had this situation where we went to a fifth game at Sonora last year and lost by two points,” Ponce said. “The girls, especially the ones who played last year at Sonora, were determined to not let it happen again.”
Kellie Gratigny, the team setter, witnessed both losses to Sonora in 2011. Her determination was stretched across the floor on nearly every late point. She was a constant point-saver with heroic and improbable dives to pop up the ball or send an unlikely third touch over the net. Some of her saves seemed simply inhuman.
“In practice we do emergency plays, but you can’t really prepare for a ball about to roll onto the ground against Sonora,” Gratigny said. “You try to play just as hard against a weaker team, but facing Sonora helps bring it out of you.”
The win also avenged a 2-1 loss to Sonora on Sept. 1 in tournament play during the High Sierra Tournament in Reno. Oakdale won the first game in that match, but slipped in the next two to see defeat. On Oct. 3, Oakdale again won the first game (25-22), and allowed Sonora to fight back with an 18-25 win a game later. Oakdale’s dominant 25-11 win in game three only gave way to a 16-25 shellacking by Sonora in the next one.
The victory separates Oakdale (8-0) from the Wildcats (7-1) after a complete half of conference play. Since neither Oakdale or Sonora has lost even one game of a match against the rest of the VOL, the Mustangs can guarantee a share of VOL title by besting teams they out-gamed 21-0. Oakdale can win an outright league championship by beating Sonora in Sonora on Oct. 29.
“Hopefully this secured the VOL championship,” Gratigny said. “I am so proud of how far this team has come since we played Sonora in Reno.”
Gratigny ended with 14 points, 18 digs and 26 assists while middle blockers Hayley McIntyre (seven kills, nine points, four blocks) and Kelsey McIntyre (six kills, eight points, three blocks) shined at the net.
Oakdale is at Sierra today, Oct. 10, to continue VOL play.