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UPDATED: Bulldogs fall to 5-time champion Hamilton in title match
Audra Jones was unstoppable and the Hamilton High volleyball team won a fifth-consecutive Northern Section Division V title, defeating Los Molinos 26-24, 25-13, 25-15 on Saturday at Red Bluff High.
Los Molinos made its first trip to the championship game in school history with a junior-laden squad but, like most teams, the Bulldogs didn't have an answer for Jones, who finished with 19 kills and seven blocks.
For Jones, her fourth section championship in four years was the sweetest.
Last season she teamed up with Northern Section MVP Aubrey Bekendam and all-section setter Evelin Barajas for her third title, but with so much talent gone for her senior year Jones knew it wouldn't be easy to continue the Braves domination over the section.
"I didn't really have expectations coming into this. I thought I lost my team but I realized I got my team — this is my team. It's a great experience to be able to win another one and to be able to say I won sections my senior year," Jones said.
The two teams didn't meet during the regular season but know each other well. The long-time Mid-Valley League foes parted ways this year when the Braves moved into the Sacramento Valley League and the Bulldogs moved into the Five-Star League, and Hamilton coach Erin Johnson and Los Molinos coach Chas Konopka are close friends.
The Braves familiarity with Los Molinos meant there weren't too many surprises, according to Hamilton senior Cassie Ponke.
"We just came in slow, we weren't playing to our potential at the beginning of the game. We saw a lot of the same girls and a lot of returners. They ran a lot of slides and we weren't expecting a lot of slides, but that's about it," Ponke said.
Ponke added seven kills and three aces for the Braves.
Los Molinos entered the game as a perennial playoff team stacked with juniors who are playoff veterans. Kaitlyn Seaman and Emily Bailey played varsity as freshmen, and Clarivel Castillo, Katie Morgan and Dom Henderson moved up to varsity as sophomores.
Their desire to win impressed Bulldogs coach Chas Konopka this year.
"We're a year ahead of where I thought we were going to be. I thought next year for sure we'd be favored and make a run at the sections and maybe even NorCals next year but we're a year ahead," Konopka said.
The Bulldogs (35-8-1) led 24-21 in the first game but the Braves (25-9) scored the final five points to win 26-24 on a kill by Sophia Oseguera.
"I thought we lost some momentum in Game 1. If we'd have took Game 1 I think the momentum would have carried over but we lost a lot of momentum losing a close game," Konopka said.
Jones had six kills and three blocks in the second game, and made seven kills and three blocks in the finale.
Erica Mercado made three kills and an ace and Oseguera finished with three kills and an ace for Hamilton. Emily Bailey made nine kills and four blocks, and Briana Perez had two kills for Los Molinos.
Clarivel Castillo led the Bulldogs with 15 kills and added three blocks.
"I think the season went really well, we just got better and better over the season. We played harder and harder, not going into each game thinking we're going to win, thinking it's even," Castillo said.
Hamilton enters the Northern California championships as the No. 6 seed and hosted No. 3 St. Joseph Notre Dame (26-11) on Tuesday.
Los Molinos makes its first trip to the state playoffs as the No. 8 seed with a road game against No. 1 Branson (35-2), the defending state champions.
CONTACT Kirk Barron at 458-2121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.