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by Mike Finnerty (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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A visit to the Pavilion at U.C. Davis Thursday was a first for the Oakmont Vikings girls volleyball team, the No. 1 seed in the Division III playoff bracket.
Never had Oakmont competed for a Sac Joaquin Section championship, so getting over the distractions of pre-game ceremonies, the environment, and of the course nerves would serve as a challenge.
After dropping the first two sets of the championship match against No. 2 Vista Del Lago, Oakmont overcame the distractions and focused on the task at hand.
The Vikings rallied back and took the final three sets to beat the Eagles and capture the section title, 3-2 (16-25, 20-25, 27-25, 25-18, 15-4).
"Unbelieveable. I am just speechless," said Oakmont coach Shelby Weinberger. "I am so proud of my girls, so incredibly proud of them. We were down two sets to nothing and I was just thinking 'what a disappointment that they're not going to see the true Oakmont team' because were just really nervous tonight. I was really nervous."
It was another monster performance by Oakmont senior outside hitter Katie Carte who had a team high in kills with 25.
Sophomore Kyra Rogers (11 blocks) and senior Maura Uebner (nine kills) played a big role at the net, while sophomore setter Ally Wubben set up her teammates and kept plays alive.
Brennah Gladwill, Emily Larson, and Allison Haack all played key roles not only throughout the season, but in the championship.
The feeling of many on Oakmont was the shock of how they won, and the odds that faced them as the new kids on the block.
"When we had the meeting beforehand, all the rest of the coaches had been here before," said Weinberger. "We're the only team that hasn't - we're the newbies on this. We didn't know what to expect, we didn't know how to do the processional. It was a little overwhelming for us at the beginning, for me definitely, so I think once we settled down and took the third set we knew we could do this."
Heading to the third set, Rogers said the message from Weinberger to the team was simple, "Pick it up."
Said Carte, "We said that we just needed to leave it all on the court. We just played our hearts out and that's what got us through."
With the match tied at two sets each, the Vikings dominated the final set. By that time, Oakmont had found their game and new victory was within reach.
"We were able to really rally back, make some adjustments, and pull together as a team and that's been our basis every year," said Weinberger. "I still think that people, even after our win Tuesday, were still surprised. I still think that we surprised a lot of people today."
Oakmont finished the season with a 14-game winning streak, an overall record of 34-2, to go with it's Capital Valley Conference title.
But the reality of being section title contenders came during the middle of the season after a pair of tournament wins is when the girls realized they had something special.
"When we won Red Bluff and Santa Cruz, we knew we had a chance at this," said Rogers.
"I had no idea what to expect this year," said Carte. "But coming home from the Red Bluff tournament and the Santa Cruz tournament and taking first place in those and playing some good teams, it gave us some confidence in seeing that we could go far this year and we did."
The season continues for the Vikings and all section championship game participants with the NorCal Regionals starting on Tuesday, November 20.
For now, Wubben and her teammates will savor the victory and realize what it accomplished.
"This is so exciting, this is a once in a lifetime chance and we wanted it so bad."