KENTFIELD, CA – Three-time defending CIF North Coast Section Division 3 champion Marin Catholic moved up to Division 2 this year, but being moved up didn’t matter because the top-seeded Wildcats never missed a beat after a 25-17, 25-19, 25-22 home victory on Saturday night over No. 2 seed Carondelet.
The victory earned Marin Catholic (33-3) a sixth-straight NCS title after two Division 4 titles began the six-peat. It also earned the current top team in Northern California and No. 6 ranked team in the state in both the Cal-Hi Sports and Maxpreps rankings the top seed in the CIF state Northern Regional Open Division playoffs.
There was little doubt the senior duo of 6-6 Loyola-Marymount-bound outside hitter Kari Geissberger and 6-1 Harvard-committed middle blocker Olivia Cooper were going to produce at the net, but the big star of the game was actually rising 6-1 sophomore sensation Grace Oliva. She had a team-high 13 kills with two service aces and a block. The kills for Oliva tied a career high.
“Grace stepped up in a big way,” remarked Marin Catholic Coach Jake Spain. “When you play the right side position like Grace does as a sophomore, we’re asking her to be a primary serve receiver, we’re asking her to block the best player on the other team, we’re asking her to serve, we’re asking her to play defense, and she was pretty remarkable.”
Besides Oliva, Geissberger (nine kills, two blocks, one ace) and Cooper (seven kills, three aces, two blocks), the defense and setting were excellent in what was the kind of team effort Marin Catholic is going to need to make a run at a CIF state Open Division championship.
Two other sophomores that played key roles were setter Leah Laboy and libero Bella McGirr. Laboy had 35 assists and McGirr had 16 digs.
“It’s amazing, unbelievable, something I’ve always wanted to achieve,” said Oliva about winning a second NCS title and the prospects of getting the No. 1 seed in the Open Division.
“Teamwork is our key,” Oliva continued. “Now we have to keep pushing ourselves.”
Carondelet (28-7) came into the match on a roll after not having lost a game against its last seven opponents, four in the East Bay Athletic League to finish 15-3 and tied for second place, including avenging a loss to league champion California-San Ramon on the road to end league, and then three 3-0 victories in the playoffs over Arroyo-San Lorenzo, Montgomery-Santa Rosa and Alameda.
The Cougars came out charged up and in front of a large and loud group of fans that made the trip from Concord, and the visitors quickly took a 2-0 lead.
Carondelet stayed with Marin Catholic all the way to 16-14, but from there the hosts asserted themselves and ended the Carondelet game winning streak with a 9-3 run highlighted by three kills and a block from Oliva, and an ace service by McGirr.
Carondelet took a 4-0 lead in the second game but Marin Catholic fought back and took control to win comfortably with the game point coming on a kill from Cooper.
Marin Catholic finally got the first point in the third game and charged out to a 16-9 lead that included two monster kills by Geissberger, but a gritty Carondelet fought back valiantly but were never able to get closer than two points.
Carondelet was led by junior middle blocker Julia Haggerty and junior outside hitter Stella Tuffli. Each had six kills and Haggerty had two blocks.
After the match Carondelet Coach Jerry Mix was hoping his Cougars would be placed in Division II for the Northern Regionals where he felt they “had a chance” but they were placed in Division I as the No. 9 seed where they open on the road on Tuesday at No. 8 seed Clovis North-Fresno.
The top two seeds in the Open Division have byes this week so Marin Catholic and second-seeded Sacred Heart Cathedral don’t begin play until Saturday when the Wildcats will host the winner of the St. Francis-Mountain View at Archbishop Mitty first round game on Wednesday evening
Whether its St. Francis or Mitty it will be anything but an easy match regardless of who Marin Catholic faces. Last year Spain and his girls were the No. 3 seed in the Open NorCals and after beating St. Ignatius at home they went on the road to second-seeded Buchanan-Clovis and lost in three games.
After the Carondelet match and prior to confirming what every analyst suspected, but knowing that his Wildcats were almost assured of the top seed, Spain did not want to put too much in the way of expectations on the team
“Our motto from day one when we built this program was we were going to get better every day,” Spain remarked. “The second that we start looking too big it has a way of biting us, so I’m not taking anything for granted.”
“I’ve got an amazing squad of kids, with senior leadership talented juniors and sophomores and even freshmen on the team,” continued Spain, who is in his eighth season as the Wildcats head coach. “I just have the coolest program with some of the greatest coaches as my assistants. We’re going to get in here on Monday and practice and whatever is ahead of us we’re going to get after it, and that’s kind of the way we’ve done it and its worked out for us.”
As expected top-seeded Bishop O’Dowd (28-7) rolled past Campolindo-Moraga with their fourth 3-0 match of the NCS D1 playoffs with a 25-22, 25-18, 25-23 victory. The Dragons, who were one of the three teams to pin a loss on Marin Catholic, take a streak of nine straight 3-0 victories into the Open Division NorCals where they are the No. 6 seed and begin action on Wednesday at No. 3 seed St. Francis-Sacramento
Top-seeded Branson (14-7) got its fourth straight 3-0 victory in the playoffs after a 25-20, 25-17, 25-21 victory over Acalanes-Lafayette in the NCS D2 title game last Saturday. It was second straight NCS title for the Bulls and the 10th in the last 11 years, including an NCS record eight-straight titles from 2009-2016 with seven in D5 and one in D4. They were upset in 2017 but came back to win the D4 title in 2018 and now win again after getting moved up to D3 this year. All 10 of the NCS championships have come under Coach Michelle Brazil. Like last year Branson has been placed in Division II for the NorCals and was seeded No. 7 where they host the same Acalanes team they just defeated.
It took four games but second-seeded University-San Francisco (28-5) was a 25-12, 25-23, 23-25, 25-15 winner over Head-Royce-Oakland to capture its second NCS championship in the past three years after winning the Division V title in 2017. The Red Devils were placed in Division II for the NorCals as the No. 6 seed and they open at home on Tuesday against No. 11 seed Mountain View.
Top-seeded Marin Academy (24-11) gave Marin County three NCS championships after the Wildcats defeated St. Vincent de Paul-Petaluma 25-14, 25-9, 25-11 behind 14 kills and four aces from senior outside hitter/middle blocker Ramona Dewane. Marin Academy was placed in Division IV for the NorCals and they open at home on Tuesday against Calaveras-San Andreas.
In the only major upset of the NCS playoffs, No. 7 seed Waldorf-San Francisco (13-7) not only defeated No. 1 seed Fremont Christian-Fremont, they did it in three games with a 25-16, 25-20, 25-21 victory. The city girls now move on the CIF state Northern Regional Division VI playoffs where the Wolverines are the No. 3 seed and open on Wednesday at home against Forest Lake Christian-Auburn.