Julio Lara/Daily Journal
You want drama? You got it.
Last night, Menlo had to do something it hasn’t done all season — take it to five sets. But after playing from behind in four of the five sets, the top-seed Knights celebrated a Nor Cal championship by defeating No. 2-seed Sonora in an absolute thriller — 25-12, 22-25, 25-15, 22-25, 15-7.
The victory is the fifth Nor Cal championship in Menlo history. Next up for the Knights (32-5) is the Division IV State Championship. Menlo will take on So Cal top-seed Francis Parker of San Diego, Saturday at Santiago Canyon College. Game time is set for 12:30 p.m.
“Right now we’re ecstatic, obviously,” Menlo senior Morgan Dressel said. “We’ve had this goal since the beginning of the season. Now that we’re finally going to state, no matter what happens, we’re so glad we’ve achieved that.”
After dropping just one set through five previous postseason games, Menlo dropped two sets last night to go the distance. But the Knights showed up with authority in Game 5 by jumping out to a 3-0 lead. Sonora rallied to tie it 3-3, but Menlo setter Elisa Merten answered right back with a tremendous hook-style kill to take the lead, and the Knights would not again relinquish it.
Menlo won the match on a left-side kill by senior Maddy Frappier, who took her cue after a dig by Maddie Huber, and Merten’s 70th set of the match. Frappier got air and fired short to spark the celebration.
“That same spot has been working for us the entire night — down the line, a little more towards area six,” Frappier said. “So, I just decided to swing hard because at that point there’s nothing else you can do. You just have to kind of go for it.”
Sonora (31-7) proved a worthy opponent though. The Wildcats made very few mistakes, and forced Menlo to beat them. Sonora showed up at net with 22 match blocks, doubling that of Menlo’s 11 blocks.
“We had trouble blocking them, and we had to compensate, and I think we really pulled together as a team,” Dressel said. “We swung as hard as we possibly could and we did what we had to do to get the job done, even though we weren’t always blocking at the net. They had a good blocking team, and I think it was a very competitive front-row match.”
In Game 1, Sonora stormed out to a 10-4 lead before Menlo rallied from behind. The Knights played without senior opposite hitter Lida Vandermeer in the set, but her replacement, freshman Jessica Houghton, showed up with some clutch defensive digs to help get Menlo rolling. Menlo went on an eight-point run before taking the lead on a hook-style kill by Huber. With the score later tied 12-12, Huber fired another one of her set-high seven kills to give the Knights a lead from which they would not look back.
In Game 2, the Knights again found themselves trailing. With Sonora holding an 11-6 lead, Menlo played catch-up before finally evening the score at 17-17. With Vandermeer back on the floor, the 6-foot senior scorched a right-side kill to give the Knights an 18-17 edge. But Sonora rallied back and took advantage of a pair of Menlo violations, including a backrow-attack violation to end it, evening the match at 1-1.
In Game 3, Menlo hitter Maddie Stewart continued a steadily exceptional performance from the left side. The sophomore tabbed 17 match kills, including five in the pivotal third set. Stewart gave the Knights an early 3-2 edge, and they led the rest of the way to cruise to a 2-1 match lead.
In Game 4, Sonora came right back. The Wildcats tallied eight blocks in the set, with junior opposite Angela Gardella showing up in the clutch. Gardella tabbed a block to tie it at 10-10, then a kill to tie it 11-11. Sonora junior Shannon Friend followed by firing one of her team-high 17 match kills to give the Wildcats the lead for good to tie it at 2-2.
“Sonora played really well,” Menlo head coach Steve Cavella said. “They were competing really hard. They played some great defense. They also blocked really well. ... It’s our first five-game match of the season. I don’t know if it was the best time to have it, but at least we came out on top.”
Huber fired a match-high 19 kills for Menlo, while Vandermeer tallied 16 kills and Dressel had 14 kills. Dressel had one of her most sensational performances of the postseason thus far, totaling a .382 hitting percentage and three blocks.
“Obvisouly when Morgan Dressel is on, it turns the light on for the rest of our offense,” Frappier said “And [with the rest of our team] it’s kind of a snowball effect. I definitely think that when our main offensive players are on, everyone else will be on. And hopefully during state they will be.”
Menlo girls’ volleyball appeared in four state championships from 1999-2002, but the program has yet to win the state crown.