And then there were two.
Eight of San Francisco’s 29 high school volleyball teams qualified for the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) State Tournament, but after just two rounds, the City by the Bay is down to two representatives.
Tiny San Francisco Waldorf is yet to play a game in Division VI, while the University advanced to the semifinals of Northern California’s Division II by beating Branham-San Jose in straight sets at home on Thursday night (25-23, 25-19, 26-24). ).
“I don’t know what happened tonight,” head coach Bob Hillman said dryly after the win. “We have so many sick players.”
Mila Chan was too ill to attend school on Thursday, but with both players who would have taken her place also being ill, she still found her way onto the pitch. In what could only be described as the high school volleyball equivalent of Michael Jordan’s famous “Flu Game” from the 1997 NBA Finals, Chan delivered eight kills and six grabs to defeat the No. 2 University (27-6) to help fend off a first-class Bruins side.
“I lay in bed and slept all day,” she said. “My mom woke me up, gave me some DayQuil and some Pedialyte, and she asked how I was feeling. I said I could go straight, and she said, ‘Okay, get in the car!’”
While Chan didn’t have the most amazing stat line of any player, she did come through in clutch moments. No.7 Branham (30-5) served for the set with a 24-22 lead in Set 3 as Kinnari Atluru and Chan exchanged kills to grab the final four points. Atluru’s fourth and final ace gave the Red Devils a 25-24 lead and Chan ensured her team would live on through Saturday when No. 3 Aragon (26-9) will visit Devil Dome.
“Our mentality is really strong,” Chan said of her team’s ability to fight back. “We don’t give up on each other or lose faith in ourselves. We never give up and say we’ll get the next set.”
The Devils also had to fight their way back into Set 1, in which they were almost completely behind, albeit never more than three points. They rallied to take a 20-18 lead against an ace by Lucy Welch, but found themselves down a 23-22 hole after back-to-back kills from Branham’s student Giselle Paedon. University secured the opening set with the next three points, two with Welch kills and the other with a Bruin error.
“We had to create opportunities as we served and convert as many of them as possible,” Hillman said. “They’ve had a lot of great hits where all we could say was, ‘Okay, we’re going to stay on the side for the next track.'”
While the hosts fell behind for most of the first set, they were ahead for most of the second set, taking seven of the last nine points with a mix of Atluru’s power and Dani Lee’s ability to find holes in defense.
“She was uniquely successful in deciding when to retire,” Hillman said of Lee, who had 33 assists and four kills. “Some of them were born out of desperation when there were overpasses and she timed it perfectly and pushed them down with her right hand. When she’s really at her game, she makes great decisions.”
The Bruins led 21-17 in the third set and thought they went up by five, only for the umpires to deliberate and rule that a ball had been tipped by a Branham blocker, giving the point to Varsity and a rotation penalty made it 21-19. Atluru and sophomore Damysia Walls teamed up to drag the Devils into a 22-all tie.
“Damysia is pretty quiet and doesn’t like being the center of attention,” Hillman said of his sophomore, whose kills drew tremendous cheers from her teammates. “Sometimes in the crowd I say, ‘Let’s all stare at Damysia, she hates being the center of attention!’ But she is a very good athlete and new to volleyball. She has so much potential. When she scores on a high, hard spike, that’s exciting for us.”
“She’s progressed to the point where she wasn’t very shy and shy for the first half of the season,” Atluru said. “Now she’s just this powerhouse hitter who can slam the ball down the 10-foot line and that’s what gets us so excited.”
Atluru, a 6ft 1 junior, had a game high of 17 kills.
“It’s so much fun knowing that my teammates trust me to do what I’m doing and have so much energy when I get a kill,” she said. “The team supporting each other is what makes this game so fun.”
Libero Nicki Gaito led the varsity defense with 13 digs while Madeleine Dimitre finished the night with a 2.5 passing rating.