Bruins bump their mediocrity

Senior Tomkiewicz sees Bear River grow into a PVL?contender
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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LAKE OF THE PINES — Katie Tomkiewicz doesn’t like to think back to her sophomore year at Bear River High very often. Matt McDonald was an anxious first-year varsity volleyball coach back in 2009 and his team’s 8-19 finish didn’t impress many Bruin fans. “It was not good,” Tomkiewicz said. “I was a young coach and I kind of got some heat from some parents because I had three sophomores and a freshman on the varsity,” McDonald said. “But we had a plan and we stayed the course.” Tomkiewicz can laugh about it now that she’s a senior and the Bruins have transformed from non-factors to contenders in the Pioneer Valley League. Placer and Colfax have company at the top of the league. “I think last year was our surprise year,” said Tomkiewicz, a reliable outside hitter. “Especially after our sophomore year people didn’t expect us to do well. I’m really proud of how (the program) has grown. It’s great.” The Bruins still have to go through Placer, and a raucous Earl Crabbe Gym, if they hope to win their first PVL volleyball title. Bear River last won a league banner in 1998 in the Sierra Foothill League. The Hillgals are the three-time defending PVL champions and are fresh off a thrilling five-game win at Colfax on Monday. “Placer got it done on the road and now we have to do the same thing,” McDonald said. “We’ve got an idea of what they like to do. We match up well with them, but in some rotations they are stronger than us, so we’ve just got to play our game. I definitely anticipate a marathon match.” Bear River is the only team to defeat Placer in PVL play the last two seasons. The Bruins dropped the Hillgals in four games back on Oct. 10 despite losing the opening game. McDonald credits Tomkiewicz for helping keep the team calm and focused. “She’s a calming presence,” McDonald said. “She even keeps me calm at times. After we lost the first game to Placer she just said, ‘We’ve been here before.’ She doesn’t get rattled, whether it’s the first point or the last point.” Tomkiewicz leads Bear River in digs with 139 and she is second on the team to junior Sara Schell in aces (53) and kills (184). The 5-9 senior said playing club volleyball with the Sacramento Force in the offseason helped hone her skills and the Bruins’ chemistry has led to wins on the court. McDonald said Tomkiewicz and Schell are like “team moms,” helping out with younger players and making sure even their peers are falling in line. The team’s attitude remains humble and unassuming despite its ascension in the league standings. “They stay in the moment really well,” McDonald said. “Today you wouldn’t even know there was a league championship (on the line) Wednesday. It was just like a practice in August.” Tonight at Placer, Tomkiewicz expects a hostile environment. McDonald cranked up artificial crowd noise on the loudspeakers at the Bruins’ practice Tuesday to get his players accustomed to the rambunctious Hillgals’ supporters. Tomkiewicz said she’s ready. “Playing at Placer the crowd yells and it makes me mad, but that makes me play better,” she said. “It gets me more pumped up.”