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Eagles headed to Division III final against Christian Brothers

By: Brett Ransford/Telegraph Correspondent
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Vista del Lago’s varsity girls’ volleyball team breathed a long sigh of relief on Tuesday night following their first major postseason challenge this season in the form of a 3-2 match win against visiting Placer High, 20-25, 25-8, 25-11, 24-26, 15-11. The two schools have little history, save for last year’s 3-0 Vista playoff win, and this time at home the Lady Eagles did it with their backs against the wall. Vista rallied in the fifth game after Placer shut down Caroline Sipiora, who in large part was the determining factor in her team moving on to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III semifinal round on Thursday. “After that match I’m just relieved,” said Sipiora, who led both teams and absolutely crushed the ball for 24 kills in 70 attempts. “I think my team looks to me because I’m a captain and a leader and I like that, but that last game was all heart.” Getting to the fifth game was somewhat heart-wrenching for Vista, though. Placer came out strong and battled through eight ties and three lead changes in the first game, leaving Vista behind after a 15-15 tie. Vista then kicked their way back into the match, literally. Among numerous rallies and dives on and off the court by players from both teams, Kendall Moore, who had five kills and four blocks, actually kicked the ball once to continue a rally in the first game. That attitude carried over as Vista didn’t trail in a dominant second game and trailed once early in the third. Kara Campbell earned the majority of her 10 kills in the second game, where her team scored 10 consecutive points followed by separate three-point runs to even the match at 1-1. To reach a 15-6 lead in the third game, the second double-digit lead in back-to-back wins, Vista won seven straight points on five kills from Sipiora, four of which were in a row, and setter Faith Smith had two aces. Smith had eight aces through five games, including two in a critical game four. Sipiora laid down seven kills in the third game alone, beating her previous six in the first two games combined. Placer went down by as many as five points in between a 10-10 tie and the 20-20 tie, which brought the volume of the gymnasium and the drama of the playoffs to its peak so far for both teams. Lady Hillmen libero Gabby Orteza was unbeatable in the final six points. She and her team inched past a 24-24 tie, won the game in extra points and proceeded to shut down Vista’s hitters through about the next 10 points of the fifth game. Vista went down 8-4 before Kelsey Sampson’s kill, which was Vista's first of the game, finally sparked what turned out to be the deciding run. Sipiora was blocked on nearly a dozen kill attempts before she put her team within one point with the first of six kills in the fifth game. Summer Nichols got an ace to tie 9-9 and Sipiora’s fifth block of the match put Vista ahead 10-9 in route to a 5-2 run, which was led by four kills from none other than the Lady Eagles’ captain again. “Coach just said I had to find a way to get around those blocks in the last game. We should have come out at 100 percent and we didn’t quite do that, but we really stepped it up,” said Sipiora. The captain wasn’t the only one with big numbers. Sampson finished with 15 kills, two aces and a block. Blocks haven’t comes easy for Vista, but along with Moore and Sipiora, six blocks marks the most by the Lady Eagles this postseason. If it wasn’t enough for Sampson and Sipiora to reign in nearly 40 kills, they combined for 46 digs, as Placer went deep on the court in search of kills. Libero Jordan Cryderman also had another solid night with 22 digs. Next on the plate for Vista is another serious test. Their opponent in the finals, top-seeded Christian Brothers, won the only meeting between the two this season 25-15, 25-21 in tournament play. Vista coach Patrick Sanders coached his team through its first game five this season. The win also propels Vista to the 2011 CIF NorCal Girls Team Championship. “At some point there’s going to be a team that pushes you and you just hope that when it happens you respond. I like the ways we responded in games two and three and we got pushed against in game four. Finally we got a surge and some momentum and fortunately we were on the right side of that momentum,” said Sanders. Vista returns to its second D-III section title game in as many years, hoping to protect last year’s title against a 27-11 Christian Brothers team which went undefeated (10-0) in the Capital Valley Conference and has been atop the section power rankings all season. Thursday’s section championship is at 8 p.m. at UC Davis.