Marin Catholic outlasts Branson in battle for supremacy

Players on this year’s Marin Catholic girls volleyball team had heard all the chatter – that the team had too much turnover both in terms of starting players and coaches to possibly remain atop the MCAL for yet another season.

Although the Wildcats strung together some impressive preseason results after an 0-2 start, they still had something to prove against one of the other legitimate title contenders in the MCAL.

The Wildcats got that opportunity at home Tuesday night against Branson. MC emerged victorious in a back-and-forth, five-set battle, outlasting the Bulls, 25-23, 22-25, 25-12, 19-25, 16-14.

“It meant everything, honestly,” setter Molly Harrison said of the victory. “Last year, I was on the bench pretty much the whole season and, when I did get in, I was hitting, I wasn’t setting. I love supporting my players. It’s such a fun game but it’s completely different when you’re on the court.

“For me that changes it so much because it’s like everyone is telling you ‘Oh, the year that you’re playing, the year that all these (Division I) athletes left, you guys aren’t going to be that good.’ Everyone is underestimating you. It gives you something you need to prove but they don’t know that we had such great players just waiting on the bench to get played.”

The Wildcats, who have dominated the MCAL for the past five years, graduated four players who had been starting since they were sophomores on the team that went to the Open Division state title game.

If Tuesday’s game was any indication, it’s going to take a lot to knock MC off its perch. The teams split the first two sets before MC hit Branson with a 14-1 run in the third to go back in front.

Branson came up big in the closing stages of the fourth set to extend the match. The final stanza was marked by both teams trading haymakers in an attempt to finally overcome the other as the match went past the 2-hour mark.

“Just the adrenaline is probably what kept everyone in that game because it was certainly exhausting on both ends,” Branson coach Michelle Brazil said.

MC won the first three points then Branson took the next six. MC had a 5-0 run to go in front 8-6 but Branson immediately won the next four to pull ahead 10-8.

The Bulls led 11-10 when they landed what appeared to be a knockout blow. The teams battled out a marathon point for a full minute before a swing by Branson’s Sadie Snipes and a miscommunication by an exhausted MC defense allowed the Bulls to claim a 12-10 lead.

“(Losing that point) was definitely hard but it was just one point so I don’t know,” MC outside hitter Emily Greene said. “I just had faith in us and that’s the most I can do.”

MC leveled the score at 12-12, 13-13 and 14-14 without ever regaining the lead then another marathon point unfolded. This one lasted about 55 seconds and featured a slew of brilliant defensive plays – including a spectacular dig by Branson libero Lauren Dignan to keep the Bulls alive. Eventually, MC’s Brooke Brilliant found the back corner of Branson’s court with a kill and MC was in front, 15-14.

“It’s not over yet until 15 or until it’s over,” MC libero Tehani Ulufatu said. “You can be down five to 10 (points) and still be able to get back. You need to believe in yourself, trust yourself.”

MC claimed the match and maintained its position atop Marin county volleyball when a Branson kill landed inches wide on the ensuing point.

“I just felt the energy,” Harrison said. “Everyone was giving it their all. Everyone wanted it so bad – both teams. That’s what makes it great. We won that game but Branson didn’t lose. They put out a fight. We beat them instead of them losing to us. It was so close. It was so great.”

Greene paced MC with 15 kills. Izzy Adam had 10 kills and Brilliant added nine. Freshman Krystal Rose Huff stepped up with seven kills on 15 swings, including several in the final two sets.

Ulufatu was one of four Wildcats with double-digit digs – a team-high 15. Greene (14 digs), Savannah Ellison (12) and Isabella Do Arellanes (11) were also key players on defense.

Brilliant added three aces and, although she was only credited with one block, her impact on the court did not go unnoticed.

“(Brilliant) got a lot of really good touches on things that don’t go in the stat book that helped us get those points,” MC coach Jane Seslar said. “She was also being a really good leader and trying to solve problems on the court. She definitely emptied her tank tonight.”

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