By Wil Keepers,
Redding Christian defeated the Portola Tigers 3 sets to 0 in Thursday nights semi-final match. When you see that the scores of the three sets were 25-19, 25-10, and 25-20, it looks like the Lions had a relatively easy time of it, sweeping the Tigers and building up respectable leads in all three sets. But that doesn’t tell the whole story of this terrific match.
In the opening set, Emma Montague led off the Lions with a terrific kill. Liv Sladek and Laynee Fox got a couple of terrific blocks to secure the 3rd point, and the Lions jumped out to a 5-0 lead. But every point was contested, every volley tough, the Lions earned their early lead. After a timeout, the Tigers roared back. 6-1 Senior Maddie Boyd was able to get high above the net and place kills, but some terrific digs by Abby Pearson and Laynee Fox, and some well-timed blocking by the front line was frustrating her and the other Tiger hitters. The Tigers cut the lead to 7-5, but the Lions built it up again to 16-10. The Tigers closed to 16-15, and the two teams played even. Every point was scored on a long volley, and eventually, through some amazing digs, terrific ball movement, and well-placed kills, the Lions pulled away for the 25-19 set victory and a 1-0 lead.
In the second set, Portola struck first despite an amazing diving dig by Laynee Fox, the Tigers placed a kill into the corner and took a 1-0 lead. But the Lions front line was dominant, negating the excellent hitters from Portola with perfect blocking and athletic saves, and before long, the Tigers were down 6-2 and took a timeout. After the timeout, the Lions extended their lead to 9-3, and the Tigers were rattled, and forced to take a second time out. After that timeout, the Lions scored 3 more, and at 12-3, the rout was on. The Lions were dialed in, every time the Tigers set up a hitter, and the hitter got off a good shot, the Lions dug it out and extended the volley. The Tigers were looking at each other and their body language almost seemed to say “What now?” The Tigers were playing well, but every shot they took, the Lions answered and more. The set ended with the Lions winning 25-10 and leading 2 sets to 0.
The 3rd set started off as more of the same. The Lions led 5-2 early and looked set to cruise. But this was not a weak team they were facing, this was Portola, second in the Mountain Valley League to D5 finalist Quincy, who had knocked the Lions out of the tournament both of the last two years. The Lions appeared to get a little complacent, and the Tigers found their groove, taking a 6-5 lead and taking advantage of a little sloppy play by Redding Christian. The set went on, Tigers building up a 3 or 4 point lead, then the Lions whittling away at it, and as the set stayed close, the Tigers confidence and fire returned. The turning point came when the Tigers were leading 20-19, and Emma Montague went high and slammed the ball down for what looked to be a terrific kill. But Portola Libero sophomore Annie Folchi made an incredible dig and kept the volley alive. As she was getting up, Sammie Wunner slammed home a kill right in front of her, and the set was tied. The Lions scored the next five and took the set 25-20.
The Lions were led by 7 kills from Emma Montague and Liv Sladek and 6 from Sammie Wunner, 4 blocks by Liv Sladek, 25 digs by Abby Pearson, and 23 assists by Hope Dabbs.
This was a very well coached, very solid team, and the Lions broke them down. Now, the Lions (28-2) go into their first section title match since 2015, hoping to win their first section title since 2013 and their 3rd total North Section title. In the title match, they will play #2 seed Paradise Adventist at Red Bluff High School, the neutral site where all division title games will be played. The Division 6 title game is the nightcap, scheduled for 7 pm Saturday. After their section title match, they will be entered into the Nor-Cal State Tournament, seeding and location to be determined.