By GERARDO RECINOS
The best season in Alhambra volleyball came to a close on Wednesday night in Albany, but despite the bitter sweet ending there were very few sad faces.
The varsity girls volleyball team walked off the court quickly, but were gracious sports and accepted their 3-2 defeat in a tiebreaker set against the Albany Cougars.
The seniors walked off the court knowing they had achieved something no other graduating class has done for a very long time.
The underclassmen walked off knowing the program, in the capable hands of Coach Willie Marchesano and his staff, wouldn’t fall back into irrelevance. They knew they were ushering in a new era.
For much of the five-set thriller, it looked like Alhambra would be able to walk away comfortable winners and set up a Diablo Foothill Athletic League date with Campolindo on Saturday, Nov. 14.
Ainise Taimani in particular, started off hot. Her hitting output, coupled with stellar starts from Sophia Olson, Haley Jones and Sterling Parker helped overturn an early Albany lead.
The passing was neat, the defense was solid, every cog was in place.
Even in the second set – which Alhambra would lose – late kills from Taimani and Jones, and a big block by Lexi Hammer left the Lady Bulldogs in a promising position to steal the set.
In the third set, they played their finest volleyball of the night. Alhambra jumped out to a 7-1 lead which was fueled by a pair of Taimani aces and kills from Hammer and Olson.
A frustrated Cougars side vented their frustrations on the officials when they felt calls were not going their way, but Alhambra kept rolling. The Bulldogs ended up taking a lead as big as eight points before ending the set 25-18, and taking a 2-1 lead.
In between the set, a heated Albany bench fired up the starters. Red-faced coaches urged their girls on to win despite calls from the referees.
Albany put on their best defensive effort of the night, pulling out dig after dig, and block after block.
By no means did they outplay the Bulldogs in the early three sets, but now we had a one-sided affair.
There wasn’t much trading of points, just Albany making the most of miscommunication when they saw it, and doing their job offensively when they were set up to do so.
Even then, anything could happen in a tiebreaker.
An early Alhambra lead was quickly erased as Albany made their presence known at the net. Their blockers got a hand on every ball in the air, and the hitters were grateful for it.
Three blocks made up four out of the last five points for Albany, as time ran out on Alhambra’s dream season.
Instead it would be a battle of the Cougars on Saturday night in Moraga, as Albany celebrated with vigor, yearning to play number one seed Campolindo.
Alhambra’s season ends with the Bulldogs finishing at 19-11 overall. As six seniors walk away from the program, the team’s remaining players will look to push on and keep up what the Class of 2016 brought to Alhambra.
There won’t be 28 years in between playoff appearances as far as they’re concerned.
Photos by Martinez Tribune Sports Editor Gerardo Recinos. © Martinez Tribune.