The only thing that shined brighter than brand new Mustang volleyball jerseys during Saturday’s Oakdale Varsity Tournament was the play of 12 girls on the varsity roster.
Oakdale delivered sharp performances across a 5-1 stanza of matches, ultimately dropping a close championship contest to the same Pitman team that defeated Oakdale to start the 2011 campaign.
Oakdale (17-5 overall, 3-0 Valley Oak League) welcomed 11 other programs to the Mustang gymnasium for a series of 38 games across four pool-play divisions, an eight-team championship bracket and four-team consolation bracket. The tournament ran swiftly and smoothly in two-game formats across two courts with several contests coming down to big final points to decide a winner.
“I think it went really well,” Oakdale coach Shelli Ponce said. “We had some very competitive teams there and I had several coaches thank me for a good tournament and tell me to sign them up for next year.”
The local volleyball tourney has long been a staple of Mustang athletics, and Ponce kept the tradition alive when she joined the program in 1994. She’s not sure of the exact start date, but said the tournament was first introduced by coach Carolyn Ott, continued by coach Kelly Olson and was huge in the 1980s.
“Some of the older officials in the area told me that they remember when this was a huge two-day tournament that radio stations would come to,” Ponce said. “Teams would come camp out in the gym and the brackets would include over 20 teams.”
Ponce said the change in competition and the movement of new teams and schedules likely brought about the alteration of the tournament lineup that dropped to 16 and then as few as eight teams in the 1990s. Ponce expanded the format to 12 teams and invited quality local programs to keep the competition fierce. Oakdale, Escalon and Pitman emerged with top-three seedings from pool play, but Pitman avenged a pool loss to Escalon in the semifinals to reach the championship game.
The Oakdale girls blasted past Modesto Christian in quick games to start bracket play and ousted Enochs in a pair of 25-18 scores to reach the title game of their own tourney.
In the championship match, Oakdale battled to stay in the hunt for a game victory, but couldn’t move a defensive lineup fast enough to counter crafty Pitman kills by the likes of senior outside hitter Ashley Solis. The Pride won in 25-17, 25-19 scores.
“I was very pleased with the way the girls played throughout the day,” Ponce said. “Pitman just had a quicker running transition and offense than we could keep up with.”
Ponce said opposing coaches and players helped run the tourney by running scoring sheets and officiating matches through pool play, but thanked her own coaching staff and underclassman players for running the championship and consolation brackets later in the day. The tournament finished ahead of its projected schedule.
“You learn from your mistakes, and in past years we have not been able to get out of the gym until very late,” Ponce said. “The officials helped get the games going quickly after the previous one and my assistant coaches deserve a huge thank you.”
Oakdale junior setter Kellie Gratigny and senior outside hitter Justina Keith earned All-Tournament status for their performances across the day. Hitters Domi Powell and McKenzie Willet also played sharp to control the net while Kaitlin Van Ryn delivered some sharp serves and Brittany Salas came through on big digs.