Buchanan coach Chantal White went against the grain and did something she’s not used to doing.
Up 2-1 against No. 1 seed Central but down 15-9 in Game 4, White called her second timeout, wanting to save it for later but sensing her team’s adrenaline had started to wear off after blistering the Grizzlies 25-13 in Game 3.
She had a simple message to her team: “We are not going five.”
White’s intuition paid off as second-seeded Buchanan went on to outscore top-seeded Central 16-5 the rest of the way, finishing off the Grizzlies with Kylie Kerney’s kill on the left side and setting off a wild celebration as the Bears captured their first Valley title since 2007.
“It’s surreal,” White said after the 26-24, 18-25, 25-13, 25-20 victory. “You think about all the years going into it and all the preparation. They started as a team and ended as a team.”
The team was built around a strong senior class, one that has been playing together since the seventh grade, and they certainly showed up in the most important game of the season as Lexi Pagani led the team with 15 kills and Ashley Dittmann smashed 11.
“This feeling is way better than I expected,” Dittmann said after the game. “I knew I was going to be so happy, but actually living it makes it so much better.”
Kerney, a 5-foot-11 junior, contributed 13 kills but none as big as her blast to win the match, prompting White to say: “Kylie Kerney really stepped up, she was seeing red.”
Coming into the game, Central (36-4) was ranked No. 7 by Cal-Hi Sports and Buchanan (33-7) No. 10.
Senior setter Mikaela Weiss, the Fresno State commit whom White calls “the quarterback of the team,” registered 43 assists.
The Bears also made contributions from another pair of seniors: Julia Pagani (12 digs) and Haley Barsotti (five blocks).
“My girls work really hard, I’m so happy for this senior group,” said White, who won two Valley titles as a Buchanan player in the 2000s when her last name was Paschetta. “They worked so hard for the last four years and have such a passion for the game. They just love volleyball.”
White saw a love of the game from this senior group back in junior high when the group would set up a volleyball net outside on the grass and continue to play after a long practice.
However, the last two years Central had Buchanan’s number, beating the Bears in last year’s title game in five games and the first round of league this season.
The tide changed when they swept the Grizzlies 3-0 in a home game on Oct. 11, sharing a league title at 9-1.
The two teams were clearly the top two in the Central Section. Leading up to the title game, both teams did not lose a single game in the playoffs.
Buchanan didn’t deviate from its normal game routine despite playing at 2 p.m. on a Saturday. They held a weight training session in the morning, ate sandwiches from Deli Delicious and powered up with Jamba Juice.
“I definitely think of them as my sisters,” says Dittmann, a UC Riverside commit. “The whole team is my family and I am so grateful I got to share this experience with them.”
One thing was certain about the 2018 Bears – they were undeniably hungry.
“They wanted it, they were not going to take no for an answer,” White said. “They made a decision that they were going to win beforehand. They just believed it.”
The Bears received the No. 2 seed in the NorCal Open Division and will play No. 7 Palo Alto at home on Wednesday, Nov. 7.