Prep Volleyball: Cougars, Mustangs test each other

Members of the Gilroy and Christopher High school varsity teams pose for picture prior to Tuesday's Central Coast Section Sportsmanship Match at Gilroy High. 

GILROY—When Gilroy and Christopher met last season, it wasn’t a pretty sight for the Mustangs. The Cougars made quick work of their crosstown rival, sweeping them 3-0 and didn’t allow more the Mustangs to score more than 15 points.
What a difference a year can make.
Christopher walked away the victor of Tuesday’s Central Coast Section Sportsmanship Match by a score of 3-1, but the Mustangs didn’t make it easy. The sets were much closer this time around with the Cougars winning 25-20, 25-13, 23-25, 25-22.
“To go toe-to-toe with a team that in past years we’ve had such a hard time with and with such young girls, it’s very promising,” Gilroy coach Paolo Palao said, noting several of the Mustangs are underclassmen. “When six people on the court know where they’re supposed to be, good things happen.”
Though Gilroy looked dramatically different from the last time the two squads met, Cougar coach Brian Calimpong said he wasn’t surprised. Girls from both teams trained together in the offseason, which only strengthened the quality of play for both the Cougars and Mustangs, he said.
“We came in absolutely respecting their talents and what they could do on the court,” he said. “I think they have a great foundation for going into the preseason/league play. Hopefully next year they’ll be up with us in the upper (division).”
The Mustangs’ highlight of the evening was their Set 3 victory. The teams exchanged leads throughout the set, but the Mustangs took a 20-17 lead late. Samantha Dolan tallied three kills and Christa Arroyo added one for the Cougars to even the score at 23-23. Alexis Conlon notched a kill for Gilroy and the Cougars were unable to answer on the set point, giving the Mustangs the victory.
“I’m just really happy that we all pulled together,” said senior Jenna Clonts who led Gilroy with six kills, two aces and two blocks. “It was our first game and we were a little off rotation, but we did a lot better than we expected. The freshmen really stepped up and they helped us out a lot.”
The Cougars built a 9-point lead, 21-12, in the final set before the Mustangs found their groove. An ace from Sarah Weiby and kill from Clonts sparked a scoring rally in which Gilroy outscored Christopher 7-2 to get within two points. But a Mustang error and kill from Marielle Gomez sealed the win for Christopher. Nonetheless, Palao was pleased with the Mustangs’ performance.
“We have really aspirations after tonight,” he said. “To keep up with a team like that and come back from a (9-point) deficit when it for sure nail in the coffin was great. These girls fought and fought themselves out of that hole and I’m very, very happy.”
Christopher and Gilroy were tied at 17-all late in the first set. The Cougars capitalized on the Mustangs’ errors and Katelyn Viray notched an ace to help her team pull away. Viray, who scored 13 kills for the Cougars in the game, said Gilroy was an intense first test for her squad.
“No. 11 (Sarah Weiby) is my best friend and I just want to beat her. She fires me up,” she said with a laugh. “It’s just friendly competition. I think of as a game with our little Gilroy rivalry. It excites us and gets us pumped.”
Gilroy fell into trouble early in Set 2 and found itself in a 12-point hole. Back-to-back kills from Alexis Conlon, plus two more from Weiby and Gloria Bernal helped the Mustangs put double digits on the scoreboard. A kill from senior Christa Arroyo sparked a run for the Cougars who outscored Gilroy 4-1 to end the set.
Samantha Dolan also notched 13 kills for her squad, while Arroyo had 37 assists.
Christopher will host its regular season opener at 6:30 p.m. Thursday against Sobrato. Gilroy will play at Oakwood at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in Morgan Hill.

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