Quick victory begins volleyball’s NCS run


Shun Graves

Girls varsity volleyball huddles during the second set against Sonoma Valley, Oct. 29, 2022. Branson quickly won its NCS quarterfinal in three sets.

By Shun Graves

Freshmen made their mark during a quick three-set victory Saturday that followed a first-round bye as girls varsity volleyball advances in the section playoffs.

First-seed Branson defeated ninth-seed Sonoma Valley 25-14, 25-12, 25-13 at home for the North Coast Section Division III quarterfinal. The Bulls counted several aces — three of them by Elsa Merriman, a freshman — as a faltering Sonoma Valley defense struggled to receive balls.

“It feels really nice to be playing with the team that I’ve just been looking up to,” she said. “I’m feeling more part of the team, just getting to play and contribute.”

Branson’s offensive formula fell into motion during the first set, but often it just took a strong spike to boost the Bulls’ lead. Though Sonoma Valley scrapped for balls, the team logged errors as it struggled to set up a coordinated offense. Aces by Merriman and outside hitter Sadie Snipes further bolstered the Bulls, and Branson completed the set up 11 points.

Defense stood as a highlight during the second set. Libero Lauren Dignan made some critical digs after Sonoma Valley’s wayward attacks. Sometimes it required a hustle. In one instance, the ball launched toward the stands after a dig, but outside hitter Elena Fisher rushed over and passed it back to Dignan. A few plays later, Sonoma Valley dropped the ball on the floor.

“We’ve made huge jumps forward in our consistency and not losing sight of that,” coach Michelle Brazil said, calling a focus on “our side of the net” the common denominator for momentum this game.

We’ve made huge jumps forward in our consistency and not losing sight of that.

— Michelle Brazil

The third set sealed the deal. A combination of spikes and aces powered the Bulls’ lead. Sonoma Valley struggled to set up its offense, and even if the Bulls made some unforced errors, Branson’s opponent still lagged on the scoreboard. Middle hitter Cayman Stein made the final kill for another double-digit set win.

Throughout the game, freshmen like Merriman had big moments on the court. Outside hitter Maya Lehman, a freshman who made a critical kill late during the first set, called it part of the team’s recent momentum.

“These few weeks it feels like we’ve really gone upward, and we’re going steady,” she said. “Like a rocket.”

The Bulls returned home a week after their historic MCAL title victory against Redwood. A first-round bye advanced Branson to today’s quarterfinal. On Wednesday, Branson will face Archie Williams for the section semifinal.

“It’s less about countering their offense than about focusing on our side of the net,” Brazil said of the upcoming matchup.

The semifinal showdown could see a rehash of the regular-season victory that saw Sadie Snipes face her sister, Elsa Snipes, on the other side of the net. But the Bulls’ recent momentum will likely continue, Lehman said.

“They’re a pretty good team, but I think we’ve got it,” she said. “We have a very strong team, mentally and skill-wise.”