- West Park: New Education | School To Debut Amid Strange Times
- Anson Aroz: The Constant | Meet Placer Baseball’s Problem Solver
- Little League: Caught In A Pickle | East Bay Chapters Ride COVID Wave
- Fall Sports’ Alternate Reality: An Imagined Sports Future
- SportStars’ Softball Big 10 | NorCal’s Best Players (’11-’20)
- Lindsey Berg Volleyball Tips for Setters
- SportStars’ Overall Boys Athlete Big 10 | NorCal’s Best Male Athletes (’11-’20)
- SportStars’ Overall Girls Athlete Big 10 | NorCal’s Best Female Athletes (’11-’20)
- 2020 AWN’s High School All-American Team
- Mark Tennis: CIF, Sections, Districts Face Tough Decisions In Turbulent Times
- 10 Years Of SportStars’ Staff Memories & Favorites
- MLB Draft 2020: Seven NorCal Natives Selected, Two Stay In Bay
- Nick Yorke, Boston Red Sox 1st Round Pick | SportStar Of The Week
- Kerry McCoy Takes Over California RTC
- Frank Cheek, Legendary Humboldt State Coach Passes
SJS Boys Volleyball: Granite Bay, Elk Grove Lock Up Titles
- Updated: May 30, 2019
SJS Boys Volleyball Power Granite Bay Hauled In Its Sixth Section Banner While Elk Grove Claimed Its First NorCal Title •
In the 10 years that the Sac-Joaquin Section has held championships for boys volleyball, Granite Bay has stood atop the SJS boys volleyball world. The Grizzlies have won six of the 10 Division I titles, including the 2019 SJS Division I Championship. The program has more section crowns than any other program, and lead an elite club of four schools that have won multiple championships.
And club volleyball has been a major reason that.
Granite Bay has twice as many section titles as the next most prolific program (Whitney-Rocklin won three consecutive section championships from 2013-2015). The Grizzlies, who improved their record to 32-2 with a 3-1 victory over Elk Grove in the Div. I final, has a roster full of athletes who play club volleyball year-round, primarily for the Northern California Volleyball Club.
Granite Bay head coach Winston Prather leads the NCVC Boys Club and assists for the 18-1 ASICS team. That’s a team that features Grizzlies’ seniors J.T. Demure and Kevin Daria. Several other Grizzlies’ starters are on NCVC rosters. NCVC bags and gear often litter the Granite Bay bench.
“We are fortunate to have so many players with club experience,” Prather said. “We have three seniors and four sophomores that play a lot, and they all know each other from club.”
While the experience and talent that comes with a club-heavy roster is advantageous, Prather understands the group still must play with team goals rather than individual goals.
“We have really good players, but we don’t have any attitudes or egos,” the coach said. “Right away, this group learned to play as a team and play for each other.”
Prather pointed to Granite Bay’s first tournament of the season, the Battle of the Bay that featured some of the top programs in both the region and state. The Grizzlies won their division with outstanding team play where every individual bought into winning over stats.
That carried over through the season as Granite Bay lost only to Central Section powerhouse Clovis North-Fresno after dropping its season-opening match to Nevada Union-Grass Valley. The Grizzlies rolled through the strong Sierra Foothill League. Granite Bay compiled a perfect 10-0 league mark while losing just one set along the way. In fact, Granite Bay had a stretch in which it won 77 of 80 sets.
In the section final, Granite Bay dropped the first set to No. 2 seed and Delta League champion Elk Grove. Slow starts and uncharacteristic errors plagued both teams under the championship spotlight, but the Grizzlies regained their form and finished off the Thundering Herd by winning the next three sets.
“In the first set, our passing was not as good as it usually is, but I knew that it would come around,” Prather said reflecting on the title match. “By the end of the second set, we were passing real well and that opens up our offense.”
Demure, a senior outside hitter heading to Concordia-Irvine, led the Grizzlies with 13 kills in the SJS final. He finished the season with a team-high 319 kills. Senior Daniel Patterson added 11 kills in the SJS boys volleyball final. Sophomore Grayson Kling also added 10 kills and 19 assists in the SJS boys volleyball title victory.
On the other side of the net, Elk Grove senior outside hitter Ian Smith — and NCVC star in his own right — led the Herd with 24 kills. Junior middle blocker Joseph Solomon stepped up with a season-high 13 kills and added 13 digs in defeat.
“I think that when we came into the section final against Granite Bay, a lot of people had already written us off,” Elk Grove head coach Jill Smith said. “We are a relatively green team, with just a couple of club guys and no feeder programs. But we are an intense team.”
Ian Smith led the early charge to give the Herd a one-set advantage. However, Prather and Granite Bay knew exactly what they had to do to win.
“We know Ian well and understood that we weren’t going to be able to stop him,” Prather said. “We did a lot of film study to prepare potential blocking formations for all of their rotations, and were able to execute what we needed to do.”
The section championship win earned Granite Bay a berth in the CIF State Division I Playoffs. The stacked field featured many of California and the nation’s top teams.
“I told the guys at the first practice after the brackets were announced, ‘Welcome to the cream of the crop,’” Prather said. “But we want to play with the best.”
The Grizzlies season ended in the first round. After being seeded fifth, they were forced to take a long bus ride to face upstart Clovis. The Cougars entered the NorCal match with an identical 32 victories (but with 15 losses compared to the Grizzlies’ 2). They protected their home court and prevailed 3-1.
Meanwhile, the NorCal bracket announcements dealt Elk Grove a bit of a surprise. The Thundering Herd were placed in Division III and seeded No. 2, where they knew that they could host two home matches.
“It was a big surprise,” Jill Smith said of being placed in the lowest division. “I’m not sure how that came to be, but we are happy with the way the shuffle worked.”
Elk Grove immediately took advantage of the placement by opening the tournament with a 3-1 win over Lincoln-S.F.. The Herd followed that with a 3-0 defeat of Valley Christian-San Jose in the semifinals.
“I think that we are all aware of how good we can be,” Ian Smith said prior to the start of the regional tournament.
In the final, Elk Grove found itself trailing Bentley-Lafayette two sets to one after a 25-16 defeat in Game 3. That’s when the Herd relied on what it had learned from past adversity. It stormed back with 25-16 and 15-4 wins to claim the NorCal crown.
“We just need to understand that everything is the same — from the height of the net to the size of the court,” Jill Smith said in anticipation of the NorCal playoffs, which would mark the final matches of her tenure leading the Thundering Herd. “It’s just a different title for the matches.”