By GERARDO RECINOS
Last year, Willie Marchesano’s girls broke new ground when they qualified for the playoffs, but it was clear that this year that wouldn’t be enough for the team.
This year they qualified with ease, and won the program’s first North Coast Section match on Tuesday night when they beat Analy-Sebastapol in straight sets.
Through sheer coincidence the Bulldogs’ two previous appearances both ended with losses to Albany High School, in 1987, and 2015. Without the Cougars in their way, Alhambra broke new ground in their Nov. 1 win.
As tense as a straight set win could be, the Bulldogs never really faced any adversity until they were comfortably ahead of the Tigers. Or at least as comfortable as a program with no prior playoff wins could get.
They never trailed at any point during the opening two sets.
This was due to some stellar play from every spot on the court. Almost every player surpassed or matched a season-high stat. Makenzie Salva’s 14 kills were a season-high for her, and Sophia Olson’s 29 digs were her second best total.
It was Salva’s first kill of the night that got things going in the opening set. Maddie Gray set her up five more times in the set, with none more crucial than the consecutive kills to put Alhambra up 23-19 late on.
Analy had forced three ties at different stages of the first set of the night, but never managed to take a lead, each time committing an error to let the Bulldogs off the hook.
In set two, Alhambra jumped out to a 9-2 lead thanks to a torrid start. Senior Sasha Marshall had an ace and a kill at opposite ends of the run, with three aces from Salva bolstering the hot start.
Consecutive kills from Sterling Parker and Audrey Pardini forced Analy to take a time out, and they were able to regroup. The two teams exchanged killed before a 5-0 run by the Tigers forced Marchesano to call a time out of his own to slow down of Claire Rudderow and Ava Ehnes. The junior Ehnes had eight kills on the night to lead her team.
For a second it looked like Alhambra could cough up the lead, but they got a couple of official’s decisions to go their way and escaped with a narrow victory.
In the third set, the Tigers fiercely fought to stay alive. Unlike the first two sets, the teams traded leads seven times in the decider.
The Bulldogs trailed by as many as three points at one stage in the set, but on the back of their captain, Parker, they were able to regain the lead late. And on her 28th attempt of the night, Parker recorded her 15th and match-leading kill to clinch what no Alhambra team had done before.
With the win, the girls earned a spot in the second round, and will host the San Marin-Novato Mustangs, who upset Petaluma. The match will take place on Saturday, Nov. 5, at Alhambra at 7 p.m.