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Two titles in two tries for Grizzly volleyball

Granite Bay tops Rocklin Thunder, repeats as section champions
By: Kurt Johnson, The Press Tribune
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The years of waiting have paid off for the volleyball program at Granite Bay High School. The Grizzlies went about the business of building a dominant program when there were no postseason playoffs to win. Now that the Sac-Joaquin Section has introduced a playoff structure for the sport, Granite Bay owns the only two section championships. “Winning it this year is pretty great,” said Granite Bay coach Bruce Honberger. “I don’t know if we can top the way it felt last year when it was the first time, but both are real special.” Granite Bay dropped the first game of its title match with Rocklin Thursday, but then raced back to claim the next three games to claim another pennant for its gym wall. The 21-25, 25-19, 27-25, 25-21 win came in front of a good-sized crowd at Jesuit High School. This year’s Granite Bay team is an experienced group that knows how to play in big games. “We play the toughest schedule in the country to be ready for games like this one,” Honberger said. “We preach to our kids that we want to control our emotions. We play teams like Nevada Union (last year) and Rocklin (this year) and they come out celebrating every point, but they spend their energy and then we get them.” In this championship contest, the Thunder came out strong in game one and put together a nice run from 11-15 to 23-19 that put them in position to win the opening game. Sophomore Matt Laughrea and seniors Braxton Dunstone, Dorian Rohlfes and Tyler MacKanin all played a big role in an early outpouring of emotion for the champions of the Sierra Foothill League’s South Division. A pair of big plays by Laughrea at the net, and then a final big kill by Rohlfes put Granite Bay away in game one and left the Thunder feeling good heading into the second game. The serving of Tom Patterson, Scotty Santor, Garrick Monaghan and Kyle Howarth helped the Grizzlies get things going in the second game. Granite Bay also put an end to unforced errors and started putting balls away as setters Mason Jaynes and Tyler Menard took turns sending balls to teammates at all angles. “A lot of credit goes to these nine seniors who have been playing together year-round for six years,” Honberger said. “Last year, we had two dominant options up front, but this year it can come from anyone, anywhere and that makes it real nice.” The hitting of Patterson, Santor, Howarth, Monaghan, David Bittner and even Jaynes makes Granite Bay hard to defend. The defensive play of senior libero Tyler Towery tied it all together. Jaynes is particularly impressive with his ability to swing back and forth between setting and swinging away. “It’s really easy to go back and forth,” Jaynes said. “Ever since I was young I wanted to be good at everything. That pays off now.” Granite Bay’s big hitters all took turns firing away at the Rocklin defense, and as the match wore on, it was the Grizzlies who seized the emotional edge. “We actually had to ask them to turn up the energy a little after the first game,” Honberger said. “We stay very controlled with that, but we knew we were okay. For some reason, Rocklin just does not think they can beat us, and it showed tonight.” Granite Bay finally gained control of the contest on a service string that ran to five straight by Howarth in the middle of game two. The Grizzlies went from one point down to four points up at 14-10 and they led by as many as six points after that, including at the final point of that game. Game three required the Grizzlies to dig a little deeper, as they trailed by five points at 16-11 before taking eight of the next 11 points to equalize the game score at 19-19. A big swing from Patterson and a spectacular block by Jaynes closed out the game at 27-25 and put Granite Bay in position to win the match in four. Rocklin led once again early in game four, but as they had done most of the night, the Grizzlies were able to put together points in bunches to catch and eventually overtake the Thunder. Two late plays at the net, a block and a spike, by Bittner put Santor in position for the huge rip that closed out the Thunder and brought the title back to Granite Bay. It will be hard to make it three in a row with nine players leaving, but the Grizzlies always seem to find talent in waiting. For now, Thursday’s win was a great send-off for an accomplished group of graduates. “We have a little better camaraderie this year,” Jaynes said. “We did not all play a lot in games last year, but we got a lot out of practicing together. We all like playing together and do a lot of things together away from the court as well.” Fortunately for Honberger, his junior varsity program is thriving, leaving his program in position to make a run at title No. 3 next season.