With a pair of vocal student sections serving as a backdrop, the Bakersfield Christian and Garces volleyball teams did their best to match the intensity of their classmates in opposing stands in Tuesday night’s non-league game featuring the area’s two private high schools.
And although there was plenty of spirited play on the court, as well, the Eagles’ firepower and depth proved too much for an inexperienced Rams squad.
BCHS opened big early leads in all three sets, briefly lost the momentum, and then rallied in the finale to post its first victory of the season, 25-11, 25-18, 25-18.
Bakersfield Christian (1-2) lost its season opener to Liberty and then missed 10 days of practice and games dealing with health and safety protocols. The team was still recovering from the effects of the downtime when it lost to a powerful Visalia-Central Valley Christian squad last week, and was looking for a spark Tuesday night to jumpstart its season.
“It was definitely important because it gives us a chance to kind of get ourselves going,” Eagles coach Matt Touchstone said. “We’ve played some really good teams. Missing time it’s been difficult to get into a groove. Winning in three kind of helps your confidence, and ‘hey, we’re not as far off as we thought.’”
On Tuesday, the Eagles seemed to find some measure of a comfort zone, utilizing a balanced attack to gain the upper hand against the Rams (5-2).
“We have a lot of young girls and having a chance for them to learn was why I kept so many girls,” said Touchstone, who has 20 listed on his roster. “And having girls that can play multiple positions is kind of good and bad. Good for me and bad for them because they don’t get a starting spot but they’re in the utility spot when I need them.
“Right now we’re just trying to work on them learning to compete better. And not being able to go to the Clovis Tournament (due to COVID-19 protocols) and then losing the 10 days, it’s still kind of a new thing for them to learn how to battle together.”
After cruising through the first two sets, BCHS scored the first five points of the third set, and appeared to make short-work of Garces.
But junior Mia D’Amato, who finished with a game-high 11 kills, caught fire, and teammate Allison Martin added two aces to spark the Rams to seven of the next eight points. D’Amato closed the rally with two straight aces to give her team an 8-7 lead, and moments later had another kill to force a Bakersfield Christian timeout with Garces leading 11-9.
The Rams moved ahead 16-12 on another D’Amato kill before the Eagles recovered behind the strong play of senior outside hitter Ashley Herman, scoring 11 of the next 12 points to take the lead for good.
“We’re still young, we’re still trying to work the kinks out,” said first-year Garces coach Rachel Wulff, who was hired this summer. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got a young team, but we have talent. We just have to learn to mesh it together. We just have to have some time together. Coming in here was a big deal for us to battle together, and win a match.”
Herman, who had been relatively quiet in the first two sets, had five of her team-high 10 kills and also had a block during her team’s final push, and Herman’s younger, sophomore Amy Herman, closing out the match with a kill, her third of the match.
“I think as a team, we’ve been working on our mentality, and I think it started to drop a little in the second game,” Ashley Herman said. “But collectively we were able to pick ourselves up in the third game and were able to take that lead again.”
Garces scored the first two points of the night, and led 3-2 early before the Eagles began to take control of the play at the net. Bakersfield Christian scored eight straight points and continued to pour it on with kills from multiple attackers.
Seven different eagles players scored points, led by four kills from senior Kaiden Bowman and three from junior Brianna Bowyer. BCHS closed out the first set with five straight points, capped by a Bowyer ace.
It was much of the same in the second set, with Bakersfield Christian scoring the first five points and eventually moving ahead 11-4, forcing a Garces timeout on an ace by senior Jaycie Demos.
The Rams responded with three straight points, including two straight aces by Rosita Menta, but the Eagles countered with five straight points to regain control, and eventually close out the set with a Bowyer kill.
“That was our first win so I think it was really important for us to come out and figure out that we are a strong team,” Herman said. “Recently it’s been kind of hard to find that connection with each other. But we’re finally getting there and being able to push ourselves and win games, so it’s a blessing.”
Bowyer finished with eight kills and three aces, while Bowman had five kills and Kristina Herrera added three for Bakersfield Christian, which plays Bakersfield and Fresno-Central next week before opening league play Sept. 21 at home against Independence.
Despite the sweep, Touchstone realizes he needs to make up for lost time after the school opted not to play in the spring and that missed two weeks this year.
“We have a long way to go mentally,” Touchstone said. “We kind of knew that. We’re young, we have some good experienced girls, but we’re all pretty inexperienced overall. It’s something we’ve been talking about since Day One. We have to increase our volleyball IQ, we have to increase our understanding of the game, and we’ll play better for it.”