Prep Volleyball

Hillmen embrace transition

Seniors take on leadership roles as young team builds for future
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Robert Cole didn’t hand Sam Bennett his clipboard, but Bennett did all but draw up plays and make substitutions Thursday night at Earl Crabbe Gym. The Placer High senior even had the bum leg that veteran coaches tend to get from too many years on the volleyball court. Bennett and the Hillmen put on a thrilling show in their second-to-last home match of the season, pulling out a 23-25, 25-21, 23-25, 25-22, 16-14 win over Rio Americano. Bennett is usually all over the court as a setter, chipping in at the net whenever he can. He was limited on Thursday, but found other ways to contribute to one of Placer’s signature matches in a year that hasn’t been filled with highlights. “I am the coach,” joked Bennett, who is nursing a strained hamstring. “Robert and I are really good friends. We have a completely different relationship than most players and coaches. We don’t always agree on everything, but we’re there for each other.” The Hillmen had each other’s backs on Thursday, even when things looked bleak. In a pivotal Game 4, Bennett’s serving sparked Placer to a 7-0 lead to start the game. The Raiders rallied to come all the way back and tie the game at 21-21. But sophomore Wyatt Henson had a big block and Collin Houston dropped a decisive kill as the Hillmen held on for the win. In the fifth game, Houston and Henson again came up big in the clutch. Henson’s kill clinched the win for Placer — its fourth in 13 Capital League matches this season. “It was a tough match. They’ve kind of been our rivals the last few years,” said senior Josh Fitts, who led the Hillmen with eight blocks. “In Game 5, every point counts. We had to play smart.” Sophomore Logan Wagner had a strong game at the net for Placer, whose season will end May 3 when it visits Bear River. The Hillmen aren’t headed for postseason glory this year, but Cole believes it’s not far off. “This team is mostly sophomores,” said Cole, who starred at Placer before graduating in 1996. “We’re the youngest team in the league. We compete really well and we’re excited about the program in the next couple of years. We’ve got a lot going on.” At this point in his career, Bennett is hoping to pass on some of his experience to help the Hillmen now, and down the road. He plans to play club volleyball at Chico State next year and study mechatronical engineering: robotics. “We had five seniors at the beginning of the year and three of them quit for some reason,” Bennett explained. “At first I was feeling bad about it, but this is my team. We’re doing well with what we have. Tonight we came together at the end and pulled through.”