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Playoff march continues for Rocklin volleyball team

By: Cecil Conley, Sports Editor
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Dave Muscarella knew the Sac-Joaquin Section volleyball championships would not run on time. The Division II match was scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. last Thursday. Muscarella and his Rocklin High School players were still waiting after 9 p.m. to take the court at the UC Davis Pavilion. A similar delay in 2009 proved costly for the Thunder in a three-game loss to St. Francis of Sacramento. By the time the match began, Muscarella said his players were “mentally fatigued.” Their mouths were tired, senior setter Jill Wirt said, after talking about what they had to do to win. “We talked too much last year and psyched ourselves out,” Wirt said. “We didn’t talk a lot (Thursday). Now we’re going after it.” The loss to St. Francis supplied all the motivation Muscarella’s team needed this season. With St. Francis climbing to Division I, the door was open for a new Division II champion to emerge. At 11:02 p.m. last Thursday, Rocklin did exactly that. The Thunder finished off a four-game victory over El Camino to bring home a section volleyball title for the first time since 1997. The title earned Rocklin a home game in the opening round of the Northern California playoffs. The Thunder rallied Tuesday night for a 20-25, 25-22, 25-17, 25-20 victory over Redwood of Larkspur. Rocklin will travel to face top-seeded St. Francis of Mountain View at 7 p.m. Saturday. For the third time in four years, one St. Francis team or another stands in the Thunder’s way. “I definitely thought about (the loss to St. Francis of Sacramento), but it’s totally different this year,” senior Olivia Lane said after last Thursday’s match. “We got it done when we had to.” The challenge for Muscarella was keeping his players focused and calm as they waited out the delay. “They started warming up like usual,” Muscarella said, “and I had to tell them go sit back down.” The wait was worth it. Rocklin roared back after losing the second game to regain control of the match. “We got complacent again,” Wirt said of the second game. “We were making unforced errors that we can’t afford in these types of situations. We went out real hard (in the third game). We had that extra oomph.” Muscarella was not all that concerned after Game 2. His team has proved time and again this season that it can rise to the occasion. The Thunder is not 41-3 because it pushes the panic button. “It’s not just talent,” junior Cailyn Prewitt said. “We know how to fight back. We have created a lot of chemistry. On some teams, the players don’t get along and there’s a lot of drama.” Prewitt, Lane and Allison Judd are varsity veterans, having each played under Muscarella for three years. They realize Rocklin’s volleyball reputation will not score the team any points in popularity. “A lot of people say we’re overrated,” said Prewitt, who will go through all of this again in 2011. For the five seniors, this is the last opportunity to make their mark on the program. Lane and Judd have been with the team in three section finals. Rocklin also lost to St. Francis in 2007. Senior Lauren Orozco is the Thunder’s leader on the court. Ashleigh Reisig is the keeper of Kitty, a tiny stuffed toy that has had better days. Nevertheless, it is the team’s good luck charm. Rocklin has not needed much luck in going 10-0 in the Sierra Foothill League and 4-0 in the section playoffs. “People have underestimated us, but we’re the best team in the area and we’re going to prove it,” Wirt said. “This is our year.”