A Country Day crowd of spectators and varsity team members cheers after the Cavs win a point in the tense fifth set. The girls lost to Ripon Christian High School, 2-3, in their first and only postseason game on Nov. 2.
Battle royale: Cavaliers fall to Knights in narrow playoff game, ending postseason
After finishing the season 18-5 and dominating their league 11-1, the Cavs were seeded third going into the Division VI CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Playoffs.
In the first round, the Cavs found themselves in a battle royale against the sixth-seeded Ripon Christian Knights.
The Knights came blazing out of the gates, putting up a quick five points from serves before sophomore Bri Davies answered with a kill to stop the run.
Senior Annya Dahmani then strung together a 3-point serving run to bring the Cavs within one, 4-5 .
But as the Cavs found out, it would be a game of push and pull.
The Knights quickly fired back, setting up four straight spikes for senior Paige Vos.
The girls stopped Vos and regained possession, setting up Davies for an ace and bringing the score to 6-9.
But the Knights heated up again, going on a 6-1 run, allowing a point only off a serve into the net and forcing a timeout by head coach Jason Kreps to stop their momentum.
And it did just that.
The Cavs came out and stopped Vos, which allowed junior Bella Mathisen to serve.
Mathisen and the Cavs put together six straight unanswered points, forcing a timeout from Ripon Christian coach Jocelyn Benziger.
Unlike the Knights, the Cavs did not waver, and Mathisen continued her serving run, tying up the set, 15-15.
But after a service error by Mathisen and an ace by Ripon Christian senior Bethany Silveira, the Knights found themselves with the momentum once again.
Yet the Cavs held their ground, and after three kills from Davies and an ace from junior Lia Kaufman, it was the Knights who found themselves on the back foot.
After another failed return and the Cavs now sporting a 3-point lead going into the closing points of the set, Benziger called another timeout to allow her girls to regroup.
This time the timeout did stop the girls’ momentum, and the Knights ended the Cavs’ 5-point run with a spike from senior Kendra Van Rys.
But the Cavs pulled ahead once again, and sitting with a 23-19 lead, looked to close out the set.
However, the Knights, led by Vos’s powerful hits at the net, charged back and tied up the game 24-24, forcing a timeout from Kreps.
During the minute timeout, the crowds engaged in a chanting war. “Let’s go, Cavs!” was immediately followed by “Let’s go, RC!”
Both crowds became quiet as Ripon Christian junior Taylor Alger stepped up to serve. The Cavs returned the serve, but play ended after the referee called senior Yasmin Gupta for a net infraction, bringing the score to 24-25.
The Cavs rallied and found themselves up, 26-25.
But after a spike by Vos, the set was tied and she was up to serve.
After two teeth-clenching rallies, the Knights rode to victory on the back of Vos’s serves to a 28-26 victory.
Although most would be demoralized, Gupta said she was hopeful.
“It gave me hope that we could win the second set because we came back from an 0-5 lead,” Gupta said.
The second set seemed to be a replay of the first: The Cavs fell behind early but rallied and tied the game up in the late teens. They got to 24 first, and it appeared as though the Knights were going to make a comeback reminiscent of the first.
But a spike from Mathisen shut down their run and tied up the set count, 1-1.
According to Mathisen, who went on multiple serving runs, the runs were crucial to improving the Cavs’ mindset.
“When you mess up and then get a serving run, it feels like you’re bringing back the team from your mistakes,” Mathisen said.
“So it really brought us back into the mindset we had (when we were down in the first set) where we thought we could win.”
In the third, the Cavs once again gave up first blood, but the girls didn’t allow the Knights to gain momentum.
Both teams began trading points, neither allowing the other to gain more than a 2-point lead.
But after the Cavs gave up their lead after allowing three unanswered points, Kreps called a timeout.
When play resumed, the two teams went right back at it, trading points, and it seemed like no time before they found themselves in the same position as two sets ago, tied at 24-24.
After trading points, it was the Cavs’ turn to serve with Davies at the line.
And Davies closed out the set with a let serve and an in-play ace, sending the crowd into uproar and putting the Cavs up 2-1.
According to Davies, both the set win and the way it was won were crucial.
“We were really excited to have clinched the third set because we had both won one set, so that was key,” Davies said.
“And that the final two points were aces demoralized (the Knights) slightly because overall they were a pretty strong serve-receiving team.”
Although the Cavs started off serving in the fourth, they gave up first blood for the fourth time of the night.
But both teams traded points and were tied at 4-4. Then the Knights put up six unanswered points.
Ripon Christian continued to control the set and found themselves up 13 and one point away from tying up the set count and sending the Cavs to a fifth set.
And Vos continued her serving run and closed out the set after her teammates set her up for a spike.
According to assistant coach Sarah Song, the Cavs struggled to stop the Knights due to a lack of energy.
“I think it was a momentum and an energy shift,” Song said.
“(The girls) were putting out so much energy that the tank just drained and the fourth set was in neutral.”
Following a coin toss with the captains, Dahmani started the set serving for the Cavs. For the first time all night, the Cavs began with a lead.
After going up 3-0, the girls held their lead until the Knights tied it up, 5-5.
The Knights continued their run and went up 5-7, forcing a timeout from the Cavs.
Coming out of the timeout, the Knights seemed to maintain momentum, but after trading points and a spike by Davies, the Cavs tied up the set 9-9.
But the Knights once again pulled ahead, going on a 3-point run, forcing another timeout from the Cavs.
The Cavs found their rhythm and responded with kills from Davies and sophomore Jewel Turner, bring the score to 12-14.
But the Knights stood strong, and Vos closed out the game with one final kill.
Dahmani said she was proud of the Cavs’ performance in her very last high school game.
“This was the best game we’ve ever played,” Dahmani said.
“We really gelled, capitalized on plays and passed the ball the best we’ve ever done.”
And Gupta reflected on her volleyball career as a whole, saying she hoped to take what she learned into other aspects of her life.
“(Over the last four years) I’ve grown as a player and leader, and I can take what I’ve learned into real life and basketball, such as getting over small things to better my team.”