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The El Camino Eagles girls volleyball team entered this season with a goal to not only continue their championship level success, but to prove the doubters wrong along the way.
With only Cassidy Denny as a key returning senior starter from last year's Division II Sac-Joaquin Section championship squad, all signs pointed to a potential down year for El Camino, but not so fast.
Instead, the Eagles put together a 33-5 season, finished tied for first in the Capital League, and then capped off the year with a second straight Division II section championship.
It was a gutty 3-1 (25-19, 22-15, 25-23, 25-18) El Camino victory over Gregori of Modesto on Thursday night at the Pavilion at U.C. Davis that quieted all the doubters.
"Back-to-back sounds geat," said El Camino head coach Marty Soyama. "Last year everybody expected us to win. This year, a lot of my friends who are coaches, said 'we're coming after you this year', so that made it all the sweeter, especially with a younger group."
Denny, a three-year varsity starter for the No. 1 seeded Eagles, had been to a section championship in each of her first two years, but this year she was on a mission as the senior leader.
"It's different this year because at the beginning people told us that we weren't going to make it here and that we were not going to be as good as last year and we definitely proved them wrong."
Losing six seniors from last year's team, including one of Sacramento Bee All-Metro player Natalie Riddering, didn't prove as costly as many believed it would.
All season long El Camino received major contributions from sophomore outside hitters Mikaela Nocetti and Elizabeth Dahlberg, junior Erianna Willliams, plus the work of sophomore setter Devin Herenda.
El Camino's playoff run included a 3-0 sweeps over No. 8 Atwater and No. 5 Ponderosa, but the Eagles were tested against a tough No. 2 Gregori team where at one point the match was tied at 1-1.
"We actually like it (adversity) better than just 3-0. It gives us competition, we enjoy competition," said Denny. "When we're down, and we're losing by three or four points, we don't give up on each other. We bring it in, we talk. We're a family and there is no giving up on each other. We have each other's back."
The mission isn't over for El Camino. Next up is the NorCal Regional playoffs where last year the Eagles fell to St. Francis of Mountain View in round two.
Can the El Camino advance further?
"We have a lot of young spirit, like a fighting team. We were a good team together," said sophomore Elizabeth Dahlberg.
Coach Soyama believes anything is possible with this group.
"Every year is different, the dynamic is different,"