After a successful 2022 season, the Live Oak High girls volleyball team moved up a division within the Blossom Valley Athletic League and are expected to be contenders once again.
At the start of this season, the Acorns took powerful Sobrato to five sets in the non-counting “Sportsmanship game,” indicating they can play at the higher level.
“We are definitely working well together,” senior setter Maya Rafat said. “Tough serving is important to us. We want to build on our flow as a team.”
Live Oak was promoted to the BVAL Santa Teresa East Division after a second place finish in the West Valley Division behind Independence High.
Early results have them at 4-1 overall and in a wide-open league race that begins next week at home against Hill High on Sept. 26, followed by a match at Piedmont Hills on Sept. 28. Both matches are slated to begin at 7pm.
“The energy is high,” senior outside hitter Anna Guenet said. “Once we get rolling, we’re unstoppable.”
In the preseason portion of their schedule, the Acorns swept Lincoln High, edged by Pioneer High in four sets and defeated a solid Del Mar High squad in four sets (23-25, 25-18, 25-12, 25-15) on Sept. 12.
Last year, the Acorns were 12-2 in the BVAL West Valley Division and edged out in league play by Independence, which finished with a perfect 14-0 record in league play and was the lone team within the division to advance to the Central Coast Section playoffs.
Live Oak was a little short on a point-system that CCS uses to qualify at-large teams for postseason play.
This year, tougher league opponents and strong non-league scheduling will help ensure more points, though the Acorns have targeted winning the league title.
“We’re playing some teams we didn’t see last year,” Live Oak head coach Tait Rafat said. “We’re playing to make a run at league and also get power points. We hope these tough matches strengthen us for league play.”
In the matchup against Lincoln, the Lions had a tall hitter in 5-foot-11 Svetlana Garcia but the Acorns contained her and shut the rest of the team down.
Maya Rafat spread the ball around to Ana Saulala and Guenet on the outside and to middles Mara DiFrancesco and Stephanie Leonard. Sydney Albin led the defense.
“We came in ready to compete,” Tait Rafat said. “They got big hits from their one middle but if we can hold the tide, then one person is not going to beat us.”
Saulala led Live Oak in the first set with five kills and three aces, while Leonard had a big block to finish off a tight win.
Guenet kept the train rolling in the second set with four kills and two aces. Live Oak showed resilience, overcoming a 20-17 deficit with an 8-3 closing rush.
Leonard, Guenet and Saulala each ripped two kills in the third set. Saulala served three more aces as Live Oak not only scored on serves but kept Lincoln out of system and struggling to return with anything more than free ball hits.
“We want to win the league and go to the playoffs,” Guenet said. “We moved up from the lower division and we are ready for the challenge.”
The league race will be very exciting. Live Oak, Hill (12-5) and Santa Teresa High (4-2) have the best records, so far. But Piedmont Hills (3-5) is solid and Christopher High (4-7) looks strong as their sub-.500 record is skewed by a difficult non-league schedule.
The sixth squad in the division is none other than last year’s nemesis and defending league champion Independence, which currently owns a 2-5 overall record.
“Right now, our offense is still a little inconsistent,” Rafat said. “When we get passes to our setter, the offense picks up. Our serve receive is getting there…We’re improving and we’re getting there for league.”