With A Four-Set Win In The CIF NorCal Final, Roseville Completed A Season Of Historic Firsts •
Story By Mike Wood | Photos By Berry Evans III
DUBLIN — What might have looked easy early on in Roseville High School’s boys volleyball match with Bellarmine College Prep-San Jose didn’t turn out that way in the end.
But this season, the Tigers have been accustomed to accomplishing what isn’t easy.
And so they capped off a historical playoff run by outlasting the Bells 25-17, 26-24, 21-25, 27-25 on May 27 to capture their first CIF Northern California Division I championship.
Roseville is the first school not from the volleyball-rich Central Coast Section to win the NorCal Div. I boys volleyball title in the five years the CIF has presented those playoffs. A statement emphatically made for Sac-Joaquin Section volleyball.
“First team to win a section championship for boys volleyball at our school, and then we come out and win NorCals for our section,” Roseville outside hitter/libero Jason Cole said after the victory at Dublin High. “The first time ever … It feels very good.”
It was the finale of a remarkable run for Roseville (37-7), which earned its first SJS championship with a 25-20, 25-20, 25-19 win over Whitney-Rocklin on May 20.
The Tigers then were cast with the No. 4 seed in the regional tournament, setting them up to face No. 1 seed and 2015 NorCal champ St. Francis-Mountain View in the semifinals.
No problem. A 26-24, 16-25, 25-17, 25-18 victory over the Lancers landed Roseville in the championship match against defending NorCal champion Bellarmine (31-11).
The Bells owned two wins over Roseville over the past year. They eliminated the Tigers in last year‘s NorCal semifinals, 27-25, 25-14, 25-15. They met again in April‘s Bellarmine Invitational, with the hosts taking a 25-19, 25-22 victory. Those results were not lost on the Tigers heading into this year‘s NorCal prizefight.
“Especially since they beat us last year in NorCals, we just wanted to beat them that badly this year,” said Cole, who had 12 kills, four aces and 11 digs. “We played them earlier in the Bellarmine Tournament and we lost to them. That just fueled our fire.”
From the outset, that fuel appeared to prompt a potential sweep. Roseville displayed considerable poise and fire and Bellarmine was beset by errors. Early in game one, Cole nailed back-to-back aces. The Tigers were on a roll, thanks to the power of the likes of 6-foot-5 Neal Reilly, who finished with 11 kills and five blocks, and the determination of those like Tommy Morin, who had 17 digs in the match.
Finally, the Bells got their game going in the third set and proved resolute for the rest of the night. Bellarmine‘s Brent Allen and Sean Staskus (17 kills each) and Will Smith (12 kills) showed the Tigers they were in for a fight.
“After they won that set, I think we just went into the fourth set (thinking) we could win the next set and just pretend the last one didn‘t happen,” Cole said. “We just basically started over in the fourth set and came out loud, every point we got. We were intense the whole time. We‘re a very loud team. We like to be very loud when we are playing.”
Still, that fourth game got off to a rocky start for Roseville, as Bellarmine charged to a 10-6 lead. For a spell, Bellarmine seemed to build a tidal wave of momentum, poised to even the match and force a fifth set.
“I just had to make sure I kept them focused,” said Roseville coach Anthony Medlin, who was filling in for head coach Marco Salcedo, who had a wedding commitment. “Make sure I called timeouts at the correct time and get them refocused back into the game. Settle down. Control the flow.”
The Bellarmine lead held until Roseville slipped ahead 17-16. From that point, the match was as tight as can be, with neither squad taking more than a one-point lead and with ties every step of the way — from 17 points to a 25-25 deadlock brought on by a Cole kill. Neither team appeared able to gain a foothold and put that set away.
Reilly then took serve and struck a mighty blow, landing a powerful ace that put all the fire back on Roseville‘s side.
“I just knew on that last serve, I knew I had to get them out of (their) system as best as possible,” Reilly said. “It seemed like when we were serving tough, that‘s when we were being successful. I just thought, ‘I need to keep it in.’”
Up 26-25, the Tigers delivered on their first match-point opportunity. Setter Zack Mancha unloaded a devastating block that ended the match and prompted an uproarious on-court celebration.
“When that ace happened, I just knew for the next one, I had to go for it again,” Reilly said. “And then Zack had that great block at the end.”
The celebration rolled on, with camera activity at a fever pitch. Seemingly everyone associated with the program and school wanted to take a photo of the new champs, eager to document some Roseville history.
“This whole year it seems we‘re making history, within our own league and within our own school,” Reilly said. “It‘s just crazy. It‘s just unreal.”