By Jeremy McDonald
It was an interesting and entertaining opening round of the CIF-NorCal Regional Playoffs between fourth-seeded Whitney and fifth-seeded De La Salle Tuesday on the volleyball court at Whitney High School.
Through the crazy plays and the intensity of the game, Daniel Jones punched the Wildcats ticket to the semi-final round with a fourth set, game winning kill for the 25-20,29-27, 21-25, 25-17 win over the Spartans of Concord.
“It feels awesome,” said Jones on the game. “Going from a team that was losing in league, we didn’t even win league; we built upon each other as a team, we won sections and now were on our way to the NorCal Championships again.”
Whitney used an 11-4 run to lead 14-10 early on in the first set. De La Salle answered and kept the game within two, but the ‘Cats would finish the set on top 25-20.
The Spartans responded the first set loss with strong plays by Scott Ficken, Darius Monsarrat-Ford and Bailey Militar to lead Whitney 15-13 halfway through the second set, looking to have the momentum to break even in the set win column.
That was before a strong play by Cole Aidkin kept the Wildcats at or above even with the Spartans as neither team had more than a one point lead on the other.
Tied at 27 and in need of a winning blow after a string of crazy sliding saves and intense hits, Whitney turned to their hot hand in Aidkin who helped the ‘Cats get the 29-27 set win.
Jones described the first two sets as Whitney Volleyball, head coach Erich Means agreed to a point.
“Defensively yes, offensively our services where it’s been it led out offense to be stagnant a bit,” said Means. “We haven’t mixed it up as much as we have been, so we didn’t have a lot of people involved.
“It’s something we’ll work on going into Thursday’s game, making sure we’re getting everyone involved.”
The set seemed to have the Wildcats complacent as they came out flat on the third set.
“After the first two, we started to get complacent a little bit and started to relax a bit too much” said Cavan Stewart. “You can’t do that against a team who is desperate to win.”
Down 14-11, Aidnik tried to rally the troops, but De La Salle’s senior captain Ficken’s strong play helped the Spartans steal set three to avoid the sweep and elimination.
That loss however, gave Whitney a renewed sense of confidence entering the fourth set.
Behind the play of Will Bebinger with the game tied at five, the ‘Cats slowly built a 14-10 lead in the set before Stewart’s play got Whitney to one point of advancing.
De La Salle rallied off a few points in desperation to keep their season alive, but Owen Descheemaeker set up Dan Jones at the net for the game sealing kill for the 25-17 set four win.
Jones described the fourth set as a wake up call after going through the motions in the third set.
“In that third set we probably thought we had already won the game and we were kind of going through the motions,” he said. “Then when they went up on us, it was a check that we can’t let this go any further.
“Our passing improved, our hitting improved and our ball game improved tremendously and that was the two differences honestly.”
Was Whitney nervous about the ‘De La Salle’ name and their history in sports?
Of course not.
“You take a team as they come,” said Stewart. “We don’t heed big names, we come to play a team that’s coming to play us.”
Up next for the Wildcats is Saint Francis of Mountain View. Since the Lancers are the number one seed, Whitney will travel to the Bay Area for the 7pm match up at Saint Francis High School with the plan to mix it up.
“If we can mix them all around and continue to control the game defensively like we have been the last couple of weeks, good things will happen,” said Means.