Hillgals right at home in opener

Placer makes quick work of Center, prepares for roadtrip to Sonora
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Just hours before their Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoff opener, the Placer High volleyball team gathered for dinner, listened to Christmas carols and relished their final few hours inside Earl Crabbe Gym. The farewell celebration continued even after Center arrived. The Hillgals coasted to a 25-12, 25-19, 25-21 victory to earn a spot in the second round of the playoffs for the third straight year. “We had a team dinner in the gym beforehand and we wanted to keep it relaxed, but still serious,” junior setter Kelsey Lardner said. “Then we came out and played our hearts out since it’s our last game in this gym.” Placer (16-7) made sure the Cougars never got settled in. The Hillgals built a 7-0 lead in the first game and were rarely challenged in the match. In Game 2, Center got as close as 19-17 before the Hillgals finished it off with two kills from Melissa Stoll down the stretch. Placer, the No. 5 seed, will make the long road trip to No. 4 Sonora Thursday for a quarterfinal match. The Hillgals have never advanced past the second round of the playoffs. “Sonora is probably going to be tough because they’re ranked fourth,” Lardner said. “But I think if we go out and play like we did against Colfax and put everything out there, I don’t see why we shouldn’t beat Sonora.” Stoll led Placer with 19 digs, 10 kills and three aces against Center. Breanna Prior had seven kills. Shelby Madigan and Kathryn Reale added six kills each. Sydney Leftridge hustled for 17 digs and Lardner finished with 24 assists. Junior Colleen Stafford returned to the court for the first time since Oct. 22, when she sprained her ankle in a loss to El Dorado. Stafford came up with nine assists in limited action. Madigan sparked the Hillgals with two early kills against the Cougars as Lardner looked for her friend early. “Shelby’s always a strong player for us,” Lardner said. “She’s so athletic, she can get to anything pretty much. We played together last year, so we have pretty good chemistry together.” Sonora (20-8) beat No. 13 Sacramento in three games Tuesday night. The Wildcats tied for the Valley Oak League title with Oakdale. “They’re excited,” Placer coach Jennifer Wright said of her players’ approach to the quarterfinal match. “I don’t think we feel like we should have been the fifth seed, so I think we can go into Sonora and step it up and continue on.”