Tracy High’s volleyball team has been building up its championship energy for the past few years, leading up to the Lady Bulldogs winning their school’s first Sac-Joaquin Section blue banner for volleyball on Saturday night.
Tracy (27-8, 7-3 Tri-City Athletic League) swept Lincoln High (26-9, 9-1 Foothill Valley League) of Lincoln 3-0 in the SJS Division 2 final at Ripon High, defeating the Fighting Zebras 25-20, 25-23, 26-24.
“I’m glad I got to be part of Tracy High history. That’s the amazing part,” said senior Leila Sardinha. “From my freshman year to my senior year, we got so close to Division 1 my freshman year, and to make it this far my senior year, I’m overwhelmed. I’m happy. I’m excited!”
Sardinha was a freshman on the first Tracy volleyball team to win a Tri-City Athletic League title in 2016, as was Briahna Garcia.
“It’s a great feeling, especially being on varsity for four years and coming this far, and we made it! It’s such an amazing feeling seeing the transformation from my freshman to senior year,” Garcia said.
With the California Interscholastic Federation tournament as the team’s next stop, Garcia said the group is primed for bigger accomplishments.
“We all click now. We all go together. We all hustle for every ball and we trust each other, and that’s a big thing in volleyball,” she said. “We have major confidence now and we’re going to go win. That’s our mindset: We’re No. 1.”
Tracy won Saturday’s match in a sweep, but the win didn’t come easy. In the first set, the teams traded the lead three times. Junior Natalie Laiolo led Tracy in the longest series of service points of the set, turning an 11-11 tie into a 14-11 lead. Tracy kept the lead from there, but Lincoln kept getting close because of 6-foot-2 sophomore outside hitter Morgan Colyer, the most formidable attacker of the night with repeated kill shots in each set.
“I’m sure we’ll be seeing her again sometime soon,” Tracy coach Cat Ebojo-Vaughns said. “When we studied stats, she puts down 90% of the kills, so we knew she was going to find the floor.
“We weren’t going to block her every time and we weren’t going to dig her every time. We had to stay diligent with our own game. We have enough offensive weapons, and our defense is solid, that we knew we could do this.”
Sardinha was also effective with her left-handed kill shots to keep Tracy in the lead. Laiolo led another series of service points at the end, and when freshman Chloe Lemons made the shot to close out the set at 25-20, it was the biggest point margin that Tracy would have for the entire match.
Lincoln started with the lead in the second set, but Tracy soon caught up on a series of service points from Lemons, with support from Sardinha, Garcia and freshman Jianna Palmer. Sardinha and sophomore Cat Rupp also were strong at the net and were able to block Colyer’s attacks.
Eventually Lincoln caught up, and after tying it 17-17, the Bulldogs and Zebras traded the service back and forth with neither team able to pull ahead by more than two points. Palmer and Garcia again were strong at the net with their blocks, and Lemons slammed the ball past Lincoln’s blockers to close out the set at 25-23.
Lincoln took a 5-point lead early in the third set. Lemons went to the service line for a string of eight points and, with strong defensive play from her teammates, including digs by junior Ariel Reynolds, got Tracy back into the lead. Tracy led for the rest of the set but was unable to pull ahead by more than 3 points.
Colyer continued to be the Zebras’ dominant hitter and found the gap in the Tracy defense to make it a 24-24 game. A strong attack by Sardinha and another by Garcia with an assist from Laiolo gave Tracy the 26-24 win.
“I’m beyond proud of all my teammates, how good we communicated and worked together as a team,” Laiolo said. “They’re a very tough team. We just continued our consistency. We all had so much energy, and knowing that each person on the team had each other’s back really brought us even closer.
“When one person got a kill, there was so much excitement. That brought our energy up and we all knew how much we wanted it even more for each other and ourselves.”
Ebojo-Vaughns said it was clear that her team was motivated from the start to get the win.
“These girls deserve it. They worked really hard. This has been a tough season for us with injuries and having lost league, but to rebound like this, this is the best gift ever, especially for those seniors exiting out,” she said. “We close the book on this and we start our state run.”
Tracy has made the playoffs for seven consecutive years, getting as far as the semifinals in three of the past four years. With just four seniors out of the 16 players who competed in the playoffs this year, the Bulldogs are set to continue the trend.
“Since freshman year, we’ve had a lot of young players, but I feel our young players have been really experienced and they just fit right in well with everyone,” said senior Teia Magaoay.
Palmer added that the competitive level of the section championship tournament showed the younger players what they’re capable of.
“Tonight I expected it to be a tough fight and it was. At the end we fought really hard and made it through. We took it in three, and it was a really good game for us, and we all worked really hard and played well,” she said, adding that the players were inspired to keep up the momentum for the state tournament.
“I’m really excited. I’m nervous but I know we’ll do great because of how we played tonight.”
Tracy travels to Belmont on Tuesday for a 6 p.m. match against Notre Dame High in the first round of the 16-team California Interscholastic Federation NorCal Division 1 tournament. Notre Dame (26-7, 12-0 West Bay-Foothill League) is the champion of their league and also played in the first round of the Central Coast Section Open tournament, and comes into the state tournament as the No. 6 seed in their bracket. Tracy is the No. 11 seed.