‘So emotional’: Branson volleyball wins MCAL title


Shun Graves

Girls varsity volleyball celebrates its MCAL pennant after winning the league final against Redwood, Oct. 21, 2022. Branson avenged an earlier loss to claim the title in three sets.

By Shun Graves

LARKSPUR — For the seniors of girls varsity volleyball, a dream four years in the making came true in three sets Friday.

“It means so much to me. It’s so emotional,” Anna Palfy said of Branson’s decisive victory over Redwood. “Just to come back and win our senior season was unbelievable.”

Branson won the Marin County Athletic League championship against first-seed Redwood, 25-22, 25-13, 29-27. A dogged defense and an unflinching block avenged an MCAL foe that put up a late fight.

All-around coordination boosted the team to an early lead during the first set. Spikes and tips by hitters Elena Fisher and Sadie Snipes came at the heels of critical digs by Dylan Whisenant and libero Lauren Dignan. But persistent blocking turned the tables on Redwood, which last week pushed a tough block and now found itself making several errors.

“We weren’t trying to get a first ball kill,” Margaux Barber said. “We were just trying to outlast. They were kind of all over the place.”

The first-set victory translated into a second-set rout of Redwood. Persistent blocking continued as the defense kept making important digs and stayed at the ready to help mount repeated attacks. Redwood struggled to respond to Branson’s attack, letting the Bulls’ kills and setter dumps hit the hardwood.

“It felt very surreal,” coach Michelle Brazil said. “We still were having to work very hard for points.”

The spikes from Fisher and Cayman Stein kept scoring points, as did the Bulls’ blocking. Redwood maintained a consistent offense, but missed shots and defensive errors set the team back by double digits.

“I knew that they would not roll over and die in that third set,” Brazil said of Redwood. “I told the girls, ‘This is going to be the hardest set of volleyball you’ve played all season, so buckle up.’”

Like that, the most intense set this season got underway. The blocking and variety of attacks that worked in earlier sets needed something more to meet a sharpened Redwood attack that had reduced its errors. That’s when the Bulls’ defense and setting really stepped up.

I’m just so proud of the work that they put in and the focus and just the dedication to one another. They’re really, really good people.

— Michelle Brazil

At one point, Dignan nearly jumped into the stands to make a save. This defense didn’t just scrap for balls; it set up an offense that kept up attacks until the ball fell on Redwood’s floor. And setter dumps and critical assists by Logan Tusher helped the Bulls get past the Redwood defense.

The Larkspur team fought with a vengeance. By the halfway mark, the scoreboard settled on a tie. At 25 points, the tie remained. It would take four more points for Branson to break free of the stalemate and win.

“The pressure was on them,” Fisher said of Redwood. “I was just focusing on what I could do to help out my teammates.”

That mindset helped carry Branson to a win. When Redwood hit the ball out for the final time, the Branson crowd soon thundered onto the court, cementing a historic victory.

Fisher posted a double-double with 16 kills and 14 digs. Dignan made 18 digs; Tusher made 16. But beyond any number, Branson had earned a title: MCAL champions.

“I’m so excited,” Stein said, recalling last year’s league showdown against Marin Catholic. “I was like, ‘I want that to be me. I want to win that game.’”

The MCAL title, the first since 2014, came on the heels of two momentous games. Last week, Redwood defeated Branson in four sets, ending the regular season. This time, Branson one-upped them with its three-set win.

“I don’t know that I’ve seen a team turn around their mindset and their habits this quickly, ever,” Brazil said. “I’m just so proud of the work that they put in and the focus and just the dedication to one another. They’re really, really good people.”

History began this week at Marin Catholic. Branson’s Wednesday win marked the first against the team since 2015, and many of the strengths that powered Friday’s win began there. Persistent blocking marked a highlight, as did a varied offensive arsenal. But at the MCAL final, each strength had only gotten stronger.

Now, as the team enters the North Coast Section playoffs, the Bulls carry history in their hands, having achieved a crowning season objective.

“This is legendary,” Stein said. “This is awesome. No one at Branson currently had done this.”