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Placer girls volleyball ready to rise up to new league

By: Nick Pecoraro of the Auburn Journal
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The net – and the bar – just got raised a little higher.

 

After more than a decade of Pioneer Valley League dominance under head coach Jennifer Wright, the Placer girls volleyball team is set to meet the challenge of the new Foothill Valley League in 2018.

Wright returns for her 13th season, and she’s bringing her nine PVL titles with her as the Hillmen embark on their journey for No. 1 in the FVL.

Joining the new Foothill fray are Oakmont (18-13 in 2017), Rio Linda (1-16), Lincoln (7-10), Nevada Union (34-14) and defending Division II Sac-Joaquin Section champion Ponderosa (34-6). Ponderosa upended Nevada Union in last year’s section final before both teams went on to reach the NorCal quarterfinals.

“For the last however many years, it tended to be us and Bear River,” said Wright of Placer’s PVL dominance. “All of these (FVL) teams are really strong. It’s gonna be a lot tougher league… We’re gonna have to be on.”

The 34-win seasons by both Ponderosa and Nevada Union a season ago seem intimidating, especially when the Bruins return three All-League players (Zoe Zimmerman, Kendall Kott and Julin Kenison) and the Miners bring back setter Bekah McGill. But the Hillmen have a trio of senior All-Leaguers returning to the rotation as well.

Led by 6-foot-3 outside hitter Amy Hiatt, who led the PVL in hit percentage (.257) and kills per set (3.9) last year, Bella Burgard (34 kills, 34.7 kill percentage, 19 blocks) and Emily Wright (44 kills), Placer has a formidable presence for their Foothill Valley introduction.

“All the teams (in the FVL) I feel are beatable,” said Hiatt, who has verbally committed to play for Cal Poly. “It’s just about us having that mindset to beat them.”

Placer has gone undefeated in the past two seasons in league play. It will be a tall order to repeat that mark this year, but the Hillmen have the height and depth to make things interesting.

“We’re big. We have a lot of height,” said Coach Wright. “We have a lot of really big hitters and blockers that I’d like to utilize. It’ll just depend on chemistry.”

One of the biggest strengths Placer has is that most of its roster is already in game shape, having played club volleyball throughout the summer. Other returning seniors include Heather Young, Tonya Ellner, Katie Schwab and Josie Hernandez, while juniors Jill Worthington and Baylor Herlehy have impressed with their athleticism. When you mix in playoff experience from the seven returning seniors, Placer seems poised to hit the ground running.

“Our biggest thing was our resiliency,” said Coach Wright. “We were tested, and we were down in some big matches, and we were able to come back.”

The match that ended the 2017 season was in the Division III Section quarterfinals against fourth-seeded Manteca in three sets. Despite starting the season 0-5, Placer finished with a 15-12 overall mark and upset fifth-seeded Rio Americano in the opening round of the postseason.

The playoff ups and downs of 2017 provided lessons to be carried into this season.

“Stay level-headed; one point at a time; one game at a time,” Emily Wright said. “Communicate. Work well as a team. If you don’t have those two things, you’re not going to get anywhere.”

Hiatt mentioned that no sources have Placer predicted to win the FVL this year.

“But predictions are meant to be broken,” Emily Wright said. “We’re here to win.”