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Granite Bay volleyball’s senior stars will cut loose at times, but their focus is crystal clear: get to State.   By JIM McCUE |... Bear Down

Granite Bay volleyball’s senior stars will cut loose at times, but their focus is crystal clear: get to State.

  By JIM McCUE | Senior Contributor

Close. So close.

The Granite Bay Grizzlies came painfully close to the peak of high school girls’ volleyball last year, falling to St. Francis-Sacramento in the Sac-Joaquin Section and CIF Northern Regional Division I finals and ending the season one step short of reaching the state final. The losses gave the team a glimpse of the prize, but Granite Bay could not grab hold of it and claim it as their own.

“I definitely think that getting so close last year is motivation for this team,” new head coach Tricia Plummer said of the program’s near-miss in 2012. “It is hard to get that close and not go all the way.”

After the final point concluded the Grizzlies’ season in late November, the seven underclassmen on the roster, including tri-captains Taylor Nelson, Nicolette Pinkney, and Maddy Deters, were determined to surpass “close” and reach the top this year.

“Going as far as we did last year makes us work even harder,” said Nelson, a senior setter. “We all know that our goal this season is to get to State, and we believe that it is a reachable goal if we put in the hard work.”

Granite Bay has the tools to make it all the way to the top, especially with the heart of its lineup returning for one final campaign. Nelson, Pinkney, and Deters captained the Grizzlies as juniors and led the team’s offense to a 41-7 overall mark and a 10-0 run through the strong Sierra Foothill League.

Nelson is listed as a setter, but is capable of beating teams as much with kills as with assists. At 6-feet tall, she casts an impressive figure as the Grizzlies’ quarterback on the court, running the potent offense with precision. She led the team in assists and contributed 173 kills — the third-highest total behind hitters Pinkney and Deters.

“Taylor has a very high volleyball IQ,” Plummer said. “She has a lot of different abilities as a hitter and a setter from her position, so we try to get her opportunities to hit the ball and the option to hit or tip the ball at the net.”

Nelson’s versatility keeps opposing defenses on their toes and opens up the court for the Grizzlies’ hitters. Pinkney (244 kills) and Deters (243 kills) consistently powered the offense and precluded defenses from loading up their blocking on one side.

The outside hitters are listed at 6-foot and 5-foot-10, respectively. In fact, Pinkney and Nelson are the only two players on the roster at the 6-foot mark. The lack of size appears to be the only minor shortcoming for an otherwise solid lineup. However, Plummer and the Grizzlies view it as a challenge rather than a problem.

“Other teams may see our lack of size as a weakness, but it is something that we are used to,” the coach said. “I’m not concerned about our size because the girls accept the challenge and work around it.

“We are not a tall team, but we have some big hitters. They are not going to overpower blockers, so they have to be smart in the way that they do it.”

Pinkney and Deters turned in their standard consistent performances with 11 kills each in a 3-1 season-opening victory over St. Francis to prove that the Grizzlies are capable of putting the ball down against bigger opponents. The biggest surprise of the match against the Troubadours, though, may have been the team-leading 13-kill effort turned in by sophomore Brigid Bell in her varsity debut.

The opening win over the program that kept Granite Bay from winning a section or NorCal crown was fitting in that many observers believe that the Grizzlies are the team to beat in 2013 after St. Francis graduated numerous starters from its Div. I state runner-up squad. The perceived passing of the Div. I torch also translates to a passing of the bulls-eye that was on the backs of the Troubadours a year ago, setting expectations very high for Granite Bay.

Nelson, for one, welcomes the high expectations, and believes that the team’s experience — in both high school and high-level club competition — provides a foundation for the Grizzlies as well as an understanding of what it takes to succeed with a target on their backs.

“We just have to take it game-by-game and practice-by-practice,” Nelson said. “We had a good season last year, but we know that we will get every team’s best effort.”

The tri-captains will be leaned on by Plummer to provide leadership on and off the court, especially during the early transition with a new coach. Plummer has been in the program as a freshman and junior varsity coach for three years under prior head coach Jamie Ingram. She moved up to the varsity program in the offseason when Ingram accepted the head coaching job at William Jessup University in Rocklin.

Plummer allowed the players, led by the captains, to determine the team’s ultimate goal of reaching state and winning a CIF title, leaving her to concentrate on the steps it will take to get there.

“My job is to make sure that we are doing the right things and staying focused each step of the way,” Plummer said. “We set personal goals and other team goals so that we understand what we need to do to achieve our main goal.”

One major step on the road to a state title is navigating the Sierra Foothill League, a traditionally strong conference with perennial playoff contenders in Rocklin, Del Oro, Nevada Union, and Roseville. The Grizzlies were unbeaten in SFL play in 2012, but league foes are eager to knock Granite Bay off step as it looks to reach new heights.

“We are real lucky to play in a great league like the SFL because we know that we will be prepared for the playoffs after the competition we face every night,” Pinkney said.

While the road to the state final started off well, the Grizzlies will be tested by matches against other recent section champions, including Bear River and Vista del Lago, as well as tournaments against top teams from the Bay Area.

Granite Bay clearly has its sights set high, but, to a player, the team knows that nothing will be given to them.

“Success is not just going to happen,” Nelson said. “We have to work hard to prove ourselves every time we go on the court.”

Because close will not be enough this time around.

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