A first round playoff loss to Central Valley High School on Tuesday ended a two-year streak of appearances in the northern section championship game for the Gridley Bulldogs volleyball team. A win would have matched them against Sutter High School for the third straight year, but a wild night ended with a 3-2 loss (25-18, 20-25, 15-25, 25-14, 11-15).

A first round playoff loss to Central Valley High School on Tuesday ended a two-year streak of appearances in the northern section championship game for the Gridley Bulldogs volleyball team. A win would have matched them against Sutter High School for the third straight year, but a wild night ended with a 3-2 loss (25-18, 20-25, 15-25, 25-14, 11-15).

As soon as one team began to look dominant, the tables would turn, but it was the Falcons who got hot in the fifth and deciding game.

"I think neither team really played consistent the entire time," coach Sarah Tamagni said. "There were times we made critical errors at the wrong times, and then all of a sudden looked great. Same went for Central Valley I think. They would look awesome on defense and then all of a sudden lose the rhythm."

With similar records and finishes to the regular season, Tamagni wasn't surprised the two teams went the distance. With the playoff loss, Gridley finished with a 23-9-1 record. They won eight of their last nine regular season games. Central Valley improved to 23-9 heading into the championship, and won nine of their last ten regular season games.

Still, the Bulldogs had the home court and had made a habit of reaching the section championship.

Gridley started strong in front of perhaps the biggest and loudest crowd of the season for them, led by the boys basketball team. The crowd was already roaring when a kill by McKenna Cox put the Bulldogs up 2-0 in the first game.

They kept a small lead with kills by Sheena Ruggirello and Kasey Kneeland, and strong defensive plays by Erica Plasencia and Teryn Mathews. Ruggirello's kill put the girls up 10-5 before Central Valley called a timeout.

The Falcons went on a 4-0 run following the timeout until a kill by Ellexis Khan ended it. Central Valley kept it close, but never closer than two points for the rest of the game, with a lot of their mistakes helping Gridley finish with a 25-21 win.

The second game began even better for the Bulldogs, who jumped out to a 6-1 lead after a kill by Mathews, a long serve by the Falcons, and an ace by Khan.

Central Valley turned things around and tied the game at 10-10. Gridley's accuracy began to suffer, and Central Valley sophomore Breanna MacKie caught fire. Gridley led 15-12 before two kills and two blocks by Mackie put the Falcons up 17-15. Ashley Sanchez hit a couple aces and the Falcons finished on a 13-5 run, winning 25-20.

"Our offense really let down after the first, and we gave them the opportunity o set it to [MacKie] instead of taking away their offensive game," Tamagni said. "We gave up a lot of free balls and errors that didn't help in the second and third game. When the score is that close, you can't afford to make errors and back off on hitting. MacKie is a great hitter, so if you give them the opportunity to set her up, it really is hard to dig it up."

Gridley had their worst game in the third. They were quickly down 7-2, all of their kill shots seemed to land out of bounds, and MacKie continued her dominance. After trailing 8-7, Gridley never came close, and lost 25-15.

"At times, it was almost like a domino effect," Tamagni said. "When one person starts getting sloppy, the rest start scrambling too. There were a few times I could see they were getting frustrated. You have to settle down, take a deep breath and get your head back into the game."

That was the message Tamagni gave to her team before the fourth game and that was what they did. They could either go out playing hard and feeling good about themselves, or just lay down, she told them.

The Bulldogs dominated the fourth game, and collected more aces than they had in the previous three combined. A kill by Cox and two aces by Mathews gave Gridley an early 3-0 lead. Kacy Blenn and Kneeland both had kills, and Khan had an ace as they built an 8-4 lead and forced a Falcons timeout.

Blenn added two aces and Mimi Waller had one as Gridley cruised, and led by as many as 14. MacKie was practically the Falcons only source of points in the game. The Bulldogs won 25-14.
It was anybody's game at this point, but Central Valley got hot early while a few strong shots by Gridley went out of bounds. The Falcons led 8-2 and the Bulldogs couldn't recover. They came as close as 12-10 to threaten the Falcons, but lost 15-11.

Tamagni praised her team's defense, saying the back row of Blenn, Plasencia, Khan and Waller, did a tremendous job.

"They really scrapped it out and set up the ball beautifully at times," she said. "We needed to take those great passes and make something of them offensively, and we never really did."

The Bulldogs finished second in the Butte View League and were the second ranked team in the section. That's no small accomplishment, and Tamagni said the girls should be proud.

"Of course you always want to go further, but you can't let a tough loss leave a bad taste on a great season," she said. "I am so proud of how far the girls came this year. I'm proud of how hard they have worked and I personally enjoyed every minute with this amazing group of girls."