The volleyball is bouncing particularly well in Gator Nation.
Sacred Heart Prep (11-1 overall) wrapped up its non-league preseason slate Tuesday night by sweeping past Riordan. The Gators open West Bay Athletic League play Thursday at Harker.
It stands to be as stacked a WBAL Foothill Division as ever this season, with Menlo School (10-5 overall) and Notre Dame-Belmont (8-2) also in the mix. But the way this Gators team is humming along, they appear to be the team to beat.
“We’re very excited about the team this season,” SHP head coach Ali Magner said, “and, as always, we’re going to face competition leading into league. But we’re really hitting a peak right now. We were completely in flow tonight. So, I know the girls are really in sync, not just physically but mentally. It’s a team that has a bunch of synergy.”
What’s as impressive as what the Gators are doing is the way they are doing it. In enjoying a commanding 25-11, 25-11, 25-9 win over Riordan (4-5), SHP opened a 9-2 lead in the opening set, courtesy of two blocks from senior Dani Parker and three service aces from junior libero Iris O’Connor.
For the seven starters rotating through the court in the early going, though, there was no sign of the traditional pomp and circumstance of celebrating blocks and aces. This personality is unique to this year’s squad, according to four-year varsity senior Millie Muir, who said no-nonsense is the way the 2021 Gators like to play.
“I think we just try to keep a really calm demeanor on the court,” Muir said. “We just try to stay really steady. We don’t really have many high highs, but we’re also working on not having many low lows. So, that’s something that we’ve really worked hard on in practice, is just keeping a steady momentum.”
Muir certainly helped establish that momentum early Tuesday. The senior lists as a setter and has been regarded as the best player at the position throughout San Mateo County pretty much since she stepped on the court at SHP. This year, however, the Gators have reconfigured their traditional one-setter system to run a 5-2 offense, assigning sophomore Isabelle Marco to run the attack in tandem with Muir.
The change has turned Muir into a versatile weapon, as she alternates between setter and pin hitter. The result Tuesday saw the senior rack up seven kills, including an impressive 2-point sequence near the end of Game 1 when she notched an assist on a quick set for senior middle Sara Alnajjar to put down the kill, then on the following point Muir swung out to the right side to scorch a kill off a cross to force set point.
“We have a great sophomore setter … she’s amazing,” Muir said. “So, it’s really helped me to be able to hit, which is something I love to do.”
And there’s a Radeff in the house! Woot! Woot!
Sophomore outside hitter Mia Radeff is following in the footsteps of her older sister Elena, a standout terminator who graduated SHP in 2020 and now plays at Santa Clara University. The younger Radeff is nothing like her sister, according to Magner. The 5-11 Radeff’s vertical leap would beg to differ, though, as it is wonderfully reminiscent of her older sister’s Gator days.
After years of attending SHP games to watch Elena play, Radeff arrived on campus in the fall of 2020 and was met with immediate disappointment. The volleyball season, like most every fall sport, was postponed until the spring. And once the abbreviated season was played, SHP fielded only a varsity team, with no season for junior-varsity, and did not even allow freshmen to try out.
“Totally looking forward to it, and looking forward to playing with the older girls,” Radeff said of this season. “Because, with my sister, I had been watching before, and I’d just been excited to come out here too.”
The sophomore dazzled Thursday, scoring a match-high 10 kills.
Parker finished with four blocks, while Marco and sophomore middle Eduarda Sjobom added two blocks apiece.
“We’re super strong in blocking, and it definitely makes our defensive play a lot easier,” Muir said. “It’s just about how aggressive we are at the net, and we’re just focusing on keeping the ball on their side; let them make the errors.”
And while SHP wasn’t celebrating the blocks on the court, the lively bench sure was having fun with them as the match wound down, hooting and hollering off the far corner of the court in the spirit of a collegiate team. And why not? This Gators team is aspiring to accomplish big things this season. And they played like it Tuesday night.
“I think it really pumps us up and brings us together,” Radeff said. “Because we’re all so close already, which is great, so I think it helps us play well. When we have energy, we’re playing on top.”