By GERARDO RECINOS
Willie Marchesano’s Alhambra girls volleyball had something to prove on Tuesday night, and a statement to make for the rest of the teams in the newly formed Diablo Athletic League’s Foothill Conference. That statement was simple: this is our league.
The Lady Bulldogs made a strong case for being one of the top teams, if not the top team, in the world’s earliest DAL volleyball power rankings on Aug. 30, with a commanding 3-1 win over the visiting Pittsburg Pirates.
Alhambra lost a strong core of seniors to graduation last year, but continued right along on their upward trajectory that propelled them to the North Coast Section playoffs for the first time in 28 years.
Before you could blink, the Bulldog girls had already blown up a 14-2 lead in the opening set fueled by a solid serving game led by a pair of aces, seniors Leslie Roofener and Makenzie Salva. Roofener led the team with five aces on the night.
Pittsburg put up a spirited fight in the early set despite the deficit, but aces from juniors Rachel Gray and Erin Silva, and a kill from Gabby Chase, another junior, sealed the set win. Yet another junior, Sophia Olson, put up her strongest defensive showing from the libero spot in the second set. Olson had 18 digs on the night.
The second set brought more of the same, as Alhambra once again jumped out to a huge lead, this time with sophomore hitter Sterling Parker leading the lines from the middle of the court. The young hitter had nine kills on the night, and put together a solid defensive showing with six blocks, too.
The Bulldogs didn’t slip up until set three. At this point the Pirates were playing for pride, and it was clear they had a lot of it in them. Suddenly the mis-hit shots were coming off with solid contact. Blockers were getting off the mark with more precision, and even the previously horrid passing was starting to click.
Pittsburg’s Kiani Stanton in particular was having herself a set. The junior had six kills in the set, and topped it off with a set-point ace to force the Bulldogs to play one more.
Momentarily it looked like Pittsburg was going to take advantage of the blow they dealt Alhambra and capitalize on the momentum shift, but they couldn’t hold onto the lead.
At one point the Bulldogs found themselves down 13-7, but as the pressure mounted, Pittsburg imploded and left the door open.
Alhambra didn’t just go through the door, they kicked it down.
Parker’s fifth block on the night tied things up at 13-13, and an unforced error handed the Bulldogs their first lead since they won the second set.
More Pittsburg mistakes fueled a solid serve run by Salva, who collected another pair of aces late on. The Bulldogs found themselves the benefactors of Pittsburg’s implosion, and senior setter Maddie Gray took advantage of an antsy team to tip over for the set and match win.
Gray had 18 assists in her first effort as the team’s setter after serving as a back-up last season, and will be one of the many Bulldogs who will be looking to follow in the footsteps of last season’s trailblazers by setting their own path.