At one point in the season, Ramona High School’s girls volleyball had a 5-15 overall record. The Bulldogs then won six of their next nine matches before ending the season with a loss to second-seeded Mount Carmel in the quarterfinals of the CIF Division II playoffs.
“The team made tremendous progress as a collective group and as individuals,” said Coach Connie Halfaker.
On paper, the 2008 Bulldogs did not do as well as last year’s team. The 2007 team reached the CIF semifinals and finished with a 14-11 record, including a forfeit loss in the Scripps Ranch Tournament, when the SAT tests prevented Ramona from fielding the minimum six players, and not including six wins in the Palm Desert Tournament since they were not regulation-length matches. The 2008 Bulldogs won four of nine matches in the Palm Desert Tournament.
The 2007 team included four seniors who earned all-league honors, and, until setter Bailey Kotas recovered from off-season surgery, the 2008 team included only two returning starters.
This year’s team finished fourth in the Valley League standings with a 5-7 record.
At the CIF playoff selection and seeding meeting, the Bulldogs were given the seventh seed in the Division II playoffs. That earned Ramona a Nov. 12 home match against Helix, which had defeated the Bulldogs earlier in the year in the Granite Hills Tournament by 27-25 and 25-17 scores in the best-of-three match.
The best-of-five match in the playoffs also saw Helix earn a 27-25 victory. That second-game win for the Highlanders was sandwiched by two 25-18 Ramona triumphs, and in the fourth game the Bulldogs advanced to the quarterfinals with a 25-17 victory.
“We were in control the whole time,” Halfaker said. “They never were able to get into any kind of an offensive rhythm.”
Halfaker blames missed serves for the second-game loss.
“Except for that game, we served tough,” she said.
Mount Carmel had defeated Ramona twice in Valley League play, in four games and in three games. In the playoffs, the Bulldogs won the first game before the Sundevils prevailed in the next three games to advance to the semifinals. All four games were by 25-21 scores.
“Against Mount Carmel it was point for point throughout the entire match,” Halfaker said. “It wasn’t like we were struggling to play catch-up.”
In fact, the Sundevils had to catch up in two of their wins.
Ramona held leads in the second and fourth games before Mount Carmel tied each of those games at 21 points apiece. In the third game, Ramona tied the score at 21 points apiece before the Sundevils recorded the final 4 points.
“That was a frustrating finish because we had played so well and passed so well,” Halfaker said of the match.
While the closeness of the match made the loss tougher, the competitiveness against the second-seeded team put the Bulldogs’ season end in perspective.
“If you’ve got to go down, it’s good to go down like that,” Halfaker said. “The girls pulled together real well. They were very ready for the post-season. We played our best matches by far.”
Halfaker and Assistant Coach Jeff Klauda developed a play in which Kotas set to outside hitter Cassie Miller while middle blocker Jaycee Arthur was used as a decoy. The play was executed to perfection.
“It actually knocked the (defending) girl backwards,” Halfaker said. “We were able to do some things with timing and some strategy plays.
“They did all the basic things,” Halfaker said of her team. “They were pretty mistake-free throughout.”
Miller, middle blocker Shelby Bush, and defensive specialist Makenzie Taylor are the three seniors on Ramona’s 2008 team.
“Each one of them brings something really unique and special,” Halfaker said. “On and off the court all three of our seniors were just tremendous leaders.”
Five starters from this year’s team are expected to return for the 2009 season. Arthur, Kotas, and right side hitter Morgan Gross will be seniors, and outside hitter Terra Klem and libero Tori Sheppard will be juniors.
“The kids are a dedicated group,” Halfaker said. “I have a lot of confidence that we will be a strong competitor next year.”