Five-set nail-biter ends in Branson defeat


Jeffrey Huang

Lauren Dignan and Anna Palfy dive for the ball during the Sept. 20 game at Marin Catholic. The game marked the first five-set game of the season.

By Shun Graves

KENTFIELD — Two points.

From the narrow back-and-forth lead to the strings of aces, and then the final points of the fifth set, Branson’s duel Tuesday evening against Marin Catholic often hinged on unforced errors. Girls varsity volleyball pushed a dynamic offense, while the team’s Kentfield foe pushed back with a persistent attack.

Errors defined the first two sets. Marin Catholic won the first set, 25-23, while Branson won the second, 25-22. Despite errors on both sides, the Bulls maintained a strong offense, with several kills from Elena Fisher, Eva Lacy and Cayman Stein, plus a string of second-set aces from Dylan Whisenant.

Then the third set arrived.

“I think we got complacent,” coach Michelle Brazil said.

Branson dropped that set 25-12. A string of returning errors and a marauding attack by Marin Catholic set the Bulls back by double digits. Marin Catholic made kill after kill as Branson let balls hit the floor and the stands. Fisher made two early kills, but halfway through the set, Marin Catholic had clinched an unshakable lead.

“During the third set, I was just really on my toes,” middle hitter Cayman Stein said. “I was like, I know we can pull this through. I just don’t know when we’re going to do that.”

That happened during the next set. After facing double-digit defeat during the third set, the Bulls regrouped. They assembled a defense that could at least prove consistent and honed an attack that would turn the tables on Marin Catholic. And it did.

Kills from Fisher and Sadie Snipes, plus setter dumps from Logan Tusher, pushed the Bulls ahead. This time, the errors multiplied on Marin Catholic’s side. Indeed, an error ended the set with Branson leading, 25-19, forcing a fifth set.

The crowd on both sides of the court roared to its loudest as the fifth set proved a nail-biter. Back-and-forths extended from the net to the scoreboard, with each team edging to a two-point lead at some point. Tied at 14 points, the victor would need at least two more — points that ended in errors by the Bulls.

The girls varsity volleyball team cheers on the sidelines at Marin Catholic in Kentfield. The last two points decided the five-set game Sept. 20. (Jeffrey Huang)

When Branson hit the ball outside the line for the last time, Marin Catholic students charged onto the court in celebration. The Bulls’ Kentfield foe had won the set, 16-14.

“I thought we did a great job fighting back, but we shouldn’t have to fight back,” Brazil said. “We should be doing the things that we talked about doing, to start. And we weren’t.”

Looking back to the third set, Brazil pointed to a lack of consistency by Branson. And she recounted an unfocused practice Monday.

“We weren’t focused, and I understand — it was a long weekend. But at the same time, you practice how you play. It’s a saying, because it’s real.”

Branson (1-1 in league) faces Novato (0-2) at home Wednesday — a game that could prove exciting, if not nail-biting, Stein said.

“It’s going to be a fun game. We don’t know much about them, so I’m excited.”

Las Vegas notebook

The team returned to Marin this week after playing the Durango Fall Classic last weekend. The Las Vegas tournament gathered some of the top teams from around the West and beyond. Branson clinched the competition division title Saturday.

“We learned a lot about ourselves as a team,” Celia Tolmie said. “We are capable of performing at a very high level, but it’s more about forcing ourselves to perform to the level we know we can.”

The previous day, Branson played three other teams in its pool, entering as third seed but defeating Phoenix’s Xavier College Preparatory to finish second. The Bulls had also faced San Diego’s Cathedral Catholic, one of the nation’s highest-ranked teams, which won the championship division the next day.

“We beat ourselves,” she added. “We could’ve put up a far better competition against them, and we didn’t.”