After being idle for the past nine days, the Cate School girls volleyball team showed a bit of rust to open the playoffs.
The Rams (16-3, 5-1) were able to shake off the slow start on their way to a sweep over the Duarte Falcons, winning by set scores of 25-21, 25-13 and 25-16 in the CIF-SS Division 6 playoff opener.
“I just think our energy was kind of low,” said Riley Borchardt following the win. “We started off pretty quiet on the court, just pretty low energy. I think they came out with a lot of energy which made it a little bit rough but I think once we started to get into a rhythm towards the end and get our energy back and start talking a lot more on the court. I think that kind of picked it up for us.”
Rams coach Greg Novak chalked up the slow start to playoff jitters.
“I think they were so excited to play and they were so amped,” Novak said. “They were just on fire with jitters and I think they were just over excited.”
The Rams found themselves trailing 9-5 in the first set. Borchardt and Maya Blattberg were able to keep their team in the game. Borchardt had a kill to make the score 20-21 woke up an otherwise quiet crowd and the Rams were helped out by five consecutive errors by the Falcons to take the first set.
Cate, which entered the match as the No. 2 seed in the CIF SS Division 6 rankings, had seven service errors and eight hitting errors in the first set.
“That right there gave Duarte a lot of points,” Novak said.
“I think our serving was a big one that was pretty evident in that first set,” Blattberg explained. “I think part of that was nerves. We all know how to serve and I think we got our focus but we were definitely a little nervous to start.”
The Rams rode that momentum into the second set and jumped out to a 10-5 lead. Grace Johnson had a pair of kills and Borchadt had several plays around the net to help Cate take the set.
Cate was in control by the third set, jumping out to a 17-9 lead. Elise Hermes had a pair of kills and Blattberg continued her solid play. Chidera Chukwumerije was able to display her athleticism in the final set, skying above the net for a pair of spikes.
Both Blattberg and Borchardt said it’s terrifying going against the 5-foot-11 sophomore in practice.
“It’s much more fun to have to set her than to have to dig it,” Blattberg said with a laugh.
“I can say it’s scary, because in practice I’m scared,” added Borchardt. “It’s definitely very intimidating because she’s already tall and she just jumped basically twice her height It’s insane seeing her from the other side of the net.
Johnson and Elise Hermes had eight kills a piece. Johnson had a stellar performance, finishing with a .316 hit percentage, while Hermes hit .263 in the match.
Borchadt, Grace Blankenhorn and Hermes each had services aces and the Rams had nine total aces in the match. Chidera Chukwumerije and Borchardt also each had one block in the match.
The Rams were able to advance despite not playing their best volleyball, which Novak said was encouraging moving forward.
“That’s all I wanted was to get this win because then it makes the next one a little bit easier and you’ve gone through the jitters,” he said.
His players were also happy to get the first playoff match out of the way.
“We’ll know not to play this way for our next game,” Borchardt said. “We’ll know how that feels and as it goes on I definitely think we kind of sunk down a little bit on the level of play because we’re coming from playing really competitive teams and it’s kind of hard when the pace of game changes.
“I think once we get further up and we play teams possibly ranked higher than us and teams we’ve played before, like Laguna, I think we’ll definitely get our fire back and that will push us.”
Blattberg said the team has improved leaps and bounds this season when it comes to mental toughness. Having the proper state of mind – mixed with the excitement of playing in the playoffs – could be a lethal combination for their opponents.
Cate is expecting to travel to Los Angeles this weekend as the playoffs continue, though they were unaware of who they would take on next as of Thursday night. No matter the opponent or the distance, the Rams will be ready.
“We’ve gone as far as San Diego and have shown that we can hang,” Blattberg said. “If we’re able to get our energy up, no matter where we are, I think we can keep it up for the next few games.”