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Campolindo girls volleyball wrapped up a 12th NCS title behind a care-free attitude and serious talent. By BILL KOLB | Contributor   Contrast: Stark....

Campolindo girls volleyball wrapped up a 12th NCS title behind a care-free attitude and serious talent.

By BILL KOLB | Contributor


Contrast: Stark.

The difference in appearance and tone between the Bishop O’Dowd and Campolindo high school girls volleyball team huddles after Game Four of their battle for the North Coast Section Division III championship was clear, and it might have summed up the difference between the squads, as well as in the match.

One circle was grim-faced, intense, focused — maybe a little tight. 

The other was a ring of smiles, jokes, and good-natured ribbing. Loose doesn’t begin to describe it.

The host Cougars, seeded No.1 and ranked No. 1 in the section and the state in DIII, had just squandered a two-game lead in the race to three. They had blown what appeared to be a commanding and decisive 19-15 advantage in the third game, and then watched as the No. 2 Dragons banged away at their defense to take the fourth and force a decisive fifth game.

Think you know which huddle was which? Bet you’re wrong.

The faces of the Dragons didn’t appear capable of movement, so intent on coach Chad Salcido’s words were they. It was a bit jarring, after watching their freewheeling play in closing out the fourth game. They had every right to be a little raucous after twice staving off section-title elimination.

Meanwhile, Campolindo senior outside hitter Annie Shurtz elbowed senior libero Cassidy Abel in the ribs, and the two long-time teammates shared a laugh. First-year head coach John Vuong — nearly lost in the tall trees of his charges — smiled easily while offering words of encouragement and direction.

“The players were the ones telling me, ‘Coach, it’s okay. We’ve got this,’” Vuong said.

And they did.

It was only appropriate that Shurtz, co-team captain, Diablo Valley Athletic League MVP and one of the best all-around players in Northern California, put the exclamation point on the match with an emphatic kill, capping a scintillating 25-18, 25-13, 20-25, 21-25, 15-9 Campolindo victory. 

Shurtz had four of her team-high 22 kills in the fifth game, and was instrumental in keeping everyone on the floor playing free and easy.

“If we’re tight, that’s when we’re not going to play well,” Shurtz  said. “We know that we have 16 girls who are incredible players. We just have to focus on ourselves and play.”

The Cougars looked like they were just having fun, and the climactic game was, well, a little anticlimactic. Campolindo grabbed a 10-7 lead and never looked back.

“That’s our style,” Vuong said. “We always tell them, ‘This is a game. Practice is work. The game is vacation. On vacation, you’re supposed to have fun.’”

It is the second NCS title in three years for the Cougars, who parlayed their No. 1 seed in the California Interscholastic Federation Northern California playoff bracket in 2010 into a state championship. Thanks to Saturday’s win over Bishop O’Dowd, Campolindo (27-4) once again garnered the top NorCal seed, and hosted Northern Section runner-up Shasta-Redding (23-15) on Nov. 20 in Moraga.

The Cougars are powered by a trio of senior captains — setter Sophie Seiberth, Shurtz and Abel — all three of whom were part of the 2010 state title team. But the roster is peppered with talent, like senior defensive specialist and serving wiz Rachel Hua, sophomores Kelley Wirth and Annie Doyle and freshman Kirsten Sibley — among others — all of whom came up big at one point or another in the final.

“We have a lot of options,” Seiberth said. “We have 16 people. That means sometimes it’s hard to find a place for everybody. But everybody is dynamic. This team has connected from Day 1. I know that all 15 of them have my back. I don’t have any doubts about anyone.”

In a bit of a twist, despite not winning their section, the Dragons (29-7) earned the No. 3 seed, but still had to travel for the opening round of the NorCal tournament, making the long trek to No. 6 seeded Enterprise-Redding (40-6), which won the Northern Section title.

There is the distinct possibility that these two teams could meet for a fourth time this season. Bishop O’Dowd topped Campolindo 2-1 at the Deer Valley Tournament way back on Sept. 8, but the Cougars bit back with a 2-0 win at the Stockton Classic on Oct. 20. There’s no question the Dragons would love to even the season-series in the NorCal final on Tuesday, Nov. 27. 

“They are a dangerous team,” Vuong said of the Dragons. “Today, we celebrate. But Monday, it’s back to work. (The NorCal playoffs) are going to be a challenge, especially not knowing our opponents. We have to expect the unexpected.”

O’Dowd would have to get past No. 2 seed Valley Christian-San Jose (33-8), winners of the always-tough Central Coast Section. Campolindo’s road isn’t much easier, as it would likely have to top Sac-Joaquin Section champ Oakmont-Roseville (34-2), the No. 4 seed.

The Cougars have the advantage of hosting throughout, however, and the home-court was kind on Saturday.

“Getting the home court, and getting the crowd out here was huge,” Shurtz  said. “It’s a huge advantage for us to have the home court. It’s all coming together.”

Things came together for O’Dowd in the playoffs as well. The Dragons, ranked No. 7 in the state in Division III, knocked off defending champ Albany in the semifinal, and appear to be clicking on all fronts heading into NorCal.

Senior setter Sophia Mar, the West Alameda County League MVP, smoothly directs the offense to big hitters like senior middle Maya Williams and sophomore outside hitter Brianna Karsseboom, who unleashed a series of thunderous kills on the Cougars on Saturday, and almost single-handedly won the critical third game.

Cathedral Catholic-San Diego is, once again, the team to beat in the Southern California Division III bracket.

The Dons (30-4) have a hammerlock on the San Diego Section title, and have played for the past four DIII state crowns. Campolindo topped them in 2010, but the Dons bounced back to nip Albany last year for their third state title in four years. They are ranked No. 3 in the state in Division III behind Campolindo and Valley Christian.

By and large, the Cougars claim that they have not thought that far ahead.

“We purposely don’t look ahead,” Seiberth said. “We really take it one point at a time. We don’t think about the second game before we finish the first.”

“One step at a time,” Shurtz echoed. “NCS and state are always a goal, and I think we can do it. But, one step at a time.”

Abel, though, admits to having projected her thoughts down the road a bit.

“In 2010, I was on the bench,” she said. “Being able to come back my senior year as libero is the best feeling. … We have thought about (state) a little bit. Our first goal was to win league. Our second goal was to win NCS. Our third goal is NorCal, and then state. But you’ve got to do them in order. After 2010, everybody thought, ‘That was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It’s over. That can’t happen again.’ 

“So, to do it again two years later would be pretty special.”

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