Vista upset by Albany in Nor-Cal semis, lose in five games

By: Matt Long/Telegraph Sports Editor
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When most teams are eliminated late in the postseason there are usually a lot of tears. When Vista del Lago’s varsity girls’ volleyball team saw its season come to an end Saturday night, there were a few red eyes, but not too many tears. Perhaps that’s because all the players who stepped on the floor will be back next year, save senior Jessica Sampson. Vista’s exceptional season ended in the semifinals of the Division III Northern California playoffs, as the Eagles failed to close out the match in the fourth game and lost to Albany in five, 12-25, 25-19, 14-25, 25-23 and 15-10. The Cougars, the champions of the North Coast Section, made a dramatic comeback to advance to the Nor-Cal final, erasing an 18-9 deficit in the fourth game when the Eagles were only seven points from victory. Unlike the other four games, the Cougars firmly controlled the deciding fifth game, as they jumped out to a 6-2 lead and never let Vista get closer than three points the rest of the way. The fourth game, however, was the difference. The Eagles were in control, leading by as many as nine points and held a 19-11 lead after a Kendall Moore kill, just six points away from winning. Momentum, however, quickly shifted over the Albany, as junior outside hitter Kyra Holt took to the service line following the first of two consecutive kills by Kariana Castanon-Hill. The Cougars rattled off six straight points to claw their way back into the game. The Cougars tied the game at 20 and Vista took its final lead at 21-20 when Carolina Sipiora finished a long rally with a kill. Amber Erhahon evened the match with a kill and Albany took the lead for good on a block on a Kelsey Sampson kill attempt. Vista got as close as 24-23, but Holt hammered a final kill to put all the momentum on Albany’s side. “We got up by a little bit there and I think the girls got a little overconfident and relaxed and you can’t do that against a good team,” Vista coach Patrick Sanders said. “Give Albany credit, they earned it. A lot of teams aren’t able to come back when they get down like that, but Albany battled back.” Vista was never able to regain that momentum or confidence they played with in two relatively easy 25-12 and 25-14 wins earlier in the match. The Cougars scored the first three points of the third game and never wavered. “We just didn’t play like we could,” said Kelsey Sampson, who was one of Vista’s top hitters on the night. “We made a lot of mistakes and that’s when they started coming back.” With all but four seniors returning, Sanders hopes the team learns from the loss. “Last year we lost in five after winning the first two and this loss was somewhat similar,” Sanders said. “We had our opportunity to finish it out, but Albany battled back. No lead is safe and you’ve got to battle.” Vista finished the season with a 35-10 record. “I’m proud of the girls,” Sanders said. “This game could have gone either way. They had a fantastic season.” Sampson added, “We got further this year than we did last year and I think next year we will get even further. We excelled this season and had a great year, but I think we can push through and get further next year.”