The Sobrato High girls volleyball team had already clinched the best record and repeated as the Blossom Valley League Santa Teresa South Division champions entering its season-finale match against crosstown rival Live Oak on Thursday.
But the Acorns prevented the Bulldogs from running the table with a convincing three-game sweep. Game scores were 25-23, 25-23, 25-21. Live Oak coach Kathleen Davis likened her team’s play to a harmonious performance.
“It’s like a perfect symphony that comes together and you just sit back and enjoy it,” she said. “I’ve known a lot of our players since they were little girls, so it’s very emotional to see them in this capacity playing at this level. The fact they’re doing everything you wanted them to do and it comes together like this beautiful framework as your best match of the season, I couldn’t be happier.”
The Bulldogs were attempting to go a perfect 6-0 in league play, but Live Oak had their number on this night. In the teams’ first match on March 30, Sobrato came away with a thrilling five-set victory. This time, it was all Live Oak.
With the exception of the first 15 points of Game 1—in which Sobrato led 9-6—the Acorns played exceptional defense, characterized by superb passing, court coverage, digging up balls that would normally go down for kills and transitioning from defense to offense on a moment’s notice.
Davis said it was the players’ mental resolve that allowed them to play with a fluidity and calmness to take control at the end of Games 1 and 2 and win the points that counted the most.
“When an athlete gets to a certain age, it becomes so much more of a mental game,” she said. “When you get to this level, it’s all about how quickly you can reset after an error, how quickly you can stay connected to each other, how can you stay focused even when you’re tired. Every time I would say to them this is where you have to dig deep and keep going, they did it. They didn’t even need me at the end. I told them I don’t need to say anything at this point because you know what to do.”
Sobrato actually finished with more kills than Live Oak; however, the Bulldogs were undone by dozens of hitting errors and shaky serve-receive. Sobrato freshman sensation Kaylee Clayton and Live Oak senior Aleah Rafat shared match-high honors with eight kills apiece.
The 6-foot-1 Rafat also had four blocks, played a disruptive role at the net and was nearly automatic with attacks down the middle.
“I definitely think we had some nervous energy in the first set, but after we won it, the second and third sets felt easy for us,” said Rafat, who is set to play basketball and volleyball at Division III program Brooklyn College in New York. “We came out and knew what we had to do and got it done. The main thing is we played for each other, and I feel very proud of what my teammates and I did tonight.”
Live Oak’s Senior Night was truly a celebratory affair, with the six seniors on the team making up the starting lineup. Rafat, Bella Davis, Hannah Havstad, Janelle Laflin, Sophia Lacerda, and Rachel Valenzuela all played key roles, mostly for their deft passing.
This was most evident with the Acorns up 22-21 in Game 3. Sobrato had control of the point and on two occasions unleashed hard-hit balls that looked to go down as kills. However, Live Oak managed to dig them up each time before freshman Maya Rafat’s tip dropped down for a point. The Acorns then won the next two points of the game to seal the outcome.
Sobrato’s 13 service aces was partly undone by numerous service errors. Clayton had six aces and the team often had its best run of points when she was serving. Maria Brozic had five blocks and Annette Angeles was her usual solid self at libero. Despite the loss, Sobrato proved itself to be the premier team in the Santa Teresa South Division for the second straight season.
Just like the Acorns, the Bulldogs will be hit hard by graduation. It’ll be up to the returning players to improve during the club season and once conditioning starts in July followed by practice in August. Even with a senior-heavy roster, Sobrato has a strong nucleus of players projected to return for a three-peat, including Haley Haar, Jasmine Mapalad and Clayton.
The Acorns will need players from the junior varsity team to develop along with the few returning varsity players including Maya Rafat. Because girls were spread out over different sports due to the modified sports calendar brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Davis is confident the program will be fine from a numbers standpoint next season.
Live Oak finished 3-3 in league play this season, but one of those losses came via forfeit because it didn’t have enough players and another defeat came when Davis had to start some JV players due to the absence of the varsity starters.
“We had 30 girls conditioning here before Christmas, but after that a lot of those girls decided to play club or another sport because it didn’t look like indoor (high school) sports were going to happen,” Davis said. “So my anticipation is we will have a couple of transfers and some incoming freshmen that will be really big for us, but you never know. You just hope that is the case for us where the numbers will be up again.”
The latest matchup between the two schools had plenty of drama in Game 1, which featured seven ties and eight lead changes. Live Oak played steady, consistent and made the most of its offensive attacks. The Acorns also served well, with Maya Rafat and Lacerda finishing with three service aces each. Any time Sobrato made a run and looked to take control, Live Oak had an answer. Mentally, the Acorns never got too up or too down, a byproduct in the way they approach each point.
“Everyone celebrates points in a different way,” Davis said. “Some people need to be focused in a different way. You don’t always have to be super loud; you just have to do your job and be there for each other, and they did that 100 times over tonight.”