SportStars Magazine

Cats’ Game

Few NorCal Girls Volleyball Programs Entered The Postseason Playing As Well As Marin Catholic •

Story by CHACE BRYSON | Photos by JEAN-PAUL TOSHIRO

A time will come to pass this November when the Marin Catholic High volleyball team is pushed to its limits.

The stakes will be high. The pressure will mount. The opponent will have all the momentum.

And at that point, the 10 players comprising the Wildcats roster will push back fatigue, find strength in each other and claw their way back into the match — one point at a time. The team will rely on its versatility, its experience and its leadership. And it will win.

When the post-victory excitement — and relief — passes, many of the players may look back to certain points in the season when this group realized how close it was — and also how good it could be.

Defending Marin County Athletic League MVP, Riley Ramsey, thunders home a practice swing.

Oddly enough, one of those times may well have been the week they spent the least amount of time on the court together.

Due to the horrific North Bay wildfires raging merely 40 to 50 miles north and northeast of Marin Catholic’s Kentfield campus, all competition and practices for indoor and outdoor teams were shut down for the week of Oct. 9.

“It was weird,” junior setter Leah Pease said of that week. “I honestly think that time without practice made a lot of us realize how lucky we are to have the facilities and coaches and resources we have at Marin Catholic. It’s easy to take for granted.

“When we finally got to play in a game after having not practiced for a week, we just went after it. We were so fired up to play with each other again.”

That game came as part of a trip to Lincoln High of Stockton for the heavily stacked Stockton Classic Tournament on Oct. 14. The Wildcats went 3-1 that day and cemented their status as NorCal’s No. 2-ranked team by defeating West Catholic Athletic League stalwart St. Ignatius-S.F. in three sets before falling to the region’s No. 1-ranked team Archbishop Mitty-San Jose in the championship match, 27-25, 25-15.

Mitty — which ended Marin Catholic’s 2016 season in the CIF Northern Regional quarterfinals before winning the state’s first Open Division championship a week later — entered the last week of October ranked No. 3 in the state. Marin Catholic was No. 8.

And if those rankings stand up, then it would seem the two programs are on a collision course for another November showdown.

Good luck getting any of the Wildcats to think about a rematch, though.

“Coaching high school girls volleyball, you never get to count your chickens,” six-year Marin Catholic coach Jake Spain said. “I’m just blessed with such great girls this year who are unbelievably talented and driven to be great athletes.”

It all starts with his two captains. Each four-year varsity players, Riley Ramsey and Ry Goodwin are the linchpins to the Marin Catholic program.

Cal-bound senior right side hitter, Isabella Bergmark

Ramsey is a 6-2 outside hitter and the reigning Marin County Athletic League Most Valuable Player. Spain calls the University of Pacific-bound talent one of the most gifted passers he’s ever coached and a “very, very intense competitor who prefers to lead by example.”

Which is fine, because Goodwin, a 5-10 outside hitter, is happy to be the team’s vocal lightning rod.

“She’s spunky and gets super excited,” Ramsey said of Goodwin, who she’s played with in either club or high school competition since they were 11. “I’m more even keel, so it’s a good balance.”

Pease doubled-down on the idea of Goodwin as the team’s emotional center.

“She’s so fiery,” said Pease, who is now in her third year as the team’s setter. “Without her our team wouldn’t really know what to do sometimes. She’s the flame of our team. I’m going to be so sad when she leaves.”

Goodwin is humbled to be thought of so reverently, but insists it’s a role her teammates make incredibly easy.

“This team works so hard. Everyone has put in what they’ve needed to put in,” Goodwin said. “And I think that we’re just super unified. … The sport of volleyball, being one as a team is the most important part. I can say this with complete confidence, I’ve never been on a team that’s this close.”

Or likely this talented.

Joining the two captains in the Wildcat attack are Cal-bound senior Isabella Bergmark, as well as Kari Geissberger, a 6-4 sophomore phenom at middle hitter. Bergmark plays as the team’s right hitter, moving there at the beginning of October to help set up a more dynamic block.

Sophomore standout Kari Geissberger

“She’s really stepped up,” Ramsey said. “She’s a really aggressive blocker. Her ability to track the hitters has given us a really big presence at the net.”

Geissberger is Bergmark’s partner in blocking, and the two have combined for 97 over the team’s first 29 matches. The sophomore has also posted 123 kills over 51 sets and leads the team with a hitting percentage near .500. As the recruiting overtures are beginning to pile up, Spain and Geissberger’s teammates marvel at the leap she’s made between her freshman and sophomore seasons.

“The things she’s been able to do as a sophomore are so incredible,” Pease said. “She came in as a freshman and barely knew how to do her approach. The improvement we’ve seen from her is unreal.”

Spain was pretty confident that potential was there though.

“When a player has to duck to get into the gym, you notice as a coach,” he said. “But, as a freshman, her ability to make her body move the way she wanted it to within an hour of coaching, and also her enthusiasm for the sport, you could tell she was going to be special.”

Geissberger is actually one of three sophomores on the roster. Middle blocker Olivia Cooper is beginning to make an impact after waiting out a transfer sit-out period. And Nikki Steil is developing nicely at outside hitter.

In addition to having a great blocking presence, the team’s back row defense is equally impressive and led by junior libero Georgia Fusco.

“We’ll see something developing and think ‘Oh man, that hitter,’ and then here comes Georgia,” Pease said. “She’s really explosive, and really fast to everything.”

Said Goodwin: “Georgia’s just always there. I don’t know how she does it, she’s just always there.”

Accompanying Fusco as defensive specialists are senior Ashley Thompson and junior Bailey Wilson. Spain isn’t shy to use any of them, and that goes for his entire roster.

“There’s only 10 of us. So the chemistry is really good,” Ramsey said. “No matter who is on the floor, we just gel really well together. We have different personalities on the floor, but it all meshes really well.”

The Wildcats entered the North Coast Section Div. III tournament as the No. 1 seed and prohibitive favorite. Assuming things to go plan in that tournament, a No. 2 seed in the CIF Open Div. Northern Regionals is a fair bet.

Ramsey, Goodwin and Pease all gave versions of the same response when asked what the key to postseason success would be for this team. Not surprisingly, the short answer was “Stay together.”

“That’s probably the most important aspect of volleyball,” Goodwin said. “As long as we stay a strong team, then I think we’re gonna have great success. It’s going to be hard to stop us if we stay together.”

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