VOLLEYBALL: Cougars corral shorthanded Bruins in three

Christopher's John Day bumps the ball during their match Friday against Branham.

Four league matches remain in front of the Christopher High boys volleyball team. And no matter what happens in those contests, the Cougars, who currently sit one victory out of second place in the Tri-County Athletic League Valley Division, can finish no lower than .500.
To recognize the extent of the Cougars’ (12-6 overall, 8-4 league) turnaround season, one needs only to look back to last year – the first for CHS at the varsity level. Without delving into a past that head coach Karie Gonzales would much rather leave in its place, one win is no longer a team high and, furthermore, CHS has been on the positive side of more three-set victories than the other.
Settling isn’t an option, however. Winning is now expected, and beyond that, playing consistent volleyball in victory is demanded.
So even as the Cougars swept a shorthanded Branham squad (25- 20, 25-18 and 25-21) in a nonleague matchup Friday night, Gonzales, in a never-ending quest for continuity, wasn’t exactly thrilled with the W.
“We didn’t look so good Friday,” Gonzales said in retrospect Monday. “Even though we won, we were just all out of sorts. I don’t really know what was wrong with them. They pulled it together, though.”
That the Cougars did, playing through ebbs and flows in each set that nearly ran the gamut of situations often presented in a match – holding off a late run to close out a set, building and maintaining a lead and rallying from behind.
The Bruins (11-8 overall, 6-1 Blossom Valley Athletic League Santa Teresa Division) suited up the minimum six players and were absent three starters because of spring break.
Neither side looked crisp in Game 1, but it took Branham a bit longer to settle in and, by mid set, the Cougars held a healthy 20-10 lead.  
Enter situation No. 1.
The Bruins earned 10 of the next 13 points to creep into the fold at 23-20. The next two points, though, fell in favor of the Cougars.
“I ran a different rotation and they worked through that. (Branham) ran a little bit and us coming back to win was a good thing,” Gonzales said. “Mentally we are getting stronger as a team.”
A back-and-forth Game 2 had the teams tied at 10-10 until the pendulum swung entirely toward CHS after two Justin Laveroni kills bookended two service aces from Emmanuel Salcedo. Those kick started a 15-point race to 25 – one the Cougars controlled for a two-set cushion.
Eight ties highlighted Game 3, but again, the Cougars showed late-set resiliency to grab five of six points after a 20-20 predicament to complete the three-set triumph.
“A win is a win, but regardless of the opponent, I want them to focus on playing on at that high-caliber level,” Gonzales said.
Laveroni paced CHS with seven kills, Salcedo ended with four aces and five kills, John Day had four kills and Matt Almeida three.
Back in league action, the Cougars host Alisal on Tuesday night. First serve is slated for 6:30 p.m. CHS defeated the Trojans 3-0 on March 6.
“Even though they won last time, I keep stressing that they will come at them even harder this time,” Gonzales said. “And they realize that.”

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