Branson notches another win in home roller coaster


Shun Graves

Right hitter Eva Lacy jumps for a shot against Salinas, Nov. 10, 2022. Branson won the Division I NorCal game in three sets and will face Marin Catholic Saturday.

By Shun Graves

After rollicking wins in the first two sets Thursday, girls varsity volleyball had to meet a late-hour insurgency by its Monterey County foe.

A series of blocks by Salinas and errors by Branson left the third set tied at 25 points. Then the Bulls’ right hitter Eva Lacy spiked in a thundering kill. And when Cayman Stein hit the ball down the middle to Salinas’ hardwood, Branson sealed a 25-7, 25-15, 27-25 home win to advance to the next round of the Division I Northern California playoffs.

The blowout first set, which Branson started with a 13-0 streak, gave way to a nail-biting third set. Perhaps No. 13 Salinas, which had defeated the fourth seed Tuesday, tried to prove itself as a wild card. But Branson’s rallying offense — Stein made 100% of her nine kill attempts — secured another three-set win for the team.

“The timing was right,” Stein said of facing down Salinas’ blocker. “Her height didn’t intimidate me. I was kind of in my own head. I wasn’t thinking of what was on that side. I was just moving my wrist.”

Early in the third set, Salinas had edged to a narrow lead. Setter Logan Tusher, whose 40 assists undergirded Branson’s successful attack, spiked in a kill to tie the set 6-6. Stein, the middle hitter, spiked in another to push the Bulls ahead. Soon after, outside hitter Sadie Snipes embarked on an offensive spree that netted nine kills in the third set alone, pacing the restless NorCal foe.

“Being specific about what spots I’m hitting to has really been helpful,” she said. “Using a lot of offensive range to go around the defense has really worked for me.”

Snipes entered Thursday’s game after leading the offense with kills in games Tuesday and Saturday. The team has gotten the ball to her a little “farther out,” coach Michelle Brazil said, adding to her offensive range. Speed has also powered Snipes’ successful attacks.

Using a lot of offensive range to go around the defense has really worked for me.

— Sadie Snipes

“We run a fast offense, so when the set is really fast, we’re able to get the set out to the hitter before the other team’s blockers have a chance to set up,” Snipes added. “That helps us just hit through them or hit over them because they’re late.”

Speed defined the swift first and second sets. Salinas struggled to set up a reliable attack after receiving Tusher’s early serves, powering an insurmountable scoreboard lead by Branson. The Bulls’ offense rallied with a flurry of spikes from Lacy and Snipes.

And when Salinas tried to pick up its attack, libero Lauren Dignan answered with digs that helped set up the ebullient offense. Errors again piled up for Salinas as Branson’s offense again flurried in its attack during the second set.

Dignan tallied 24 digs, and Elena Fisher counted 17. Anna Palfy logged 14, many during a critical third-set stretch. Snipes led the offense with 18 kills, while Lacy made 12.

Also on Thursday night, No. 8 Marin Catholic upset No. 1 Whitney in four sets. That means No. 5 Branson will again face the Kentfield team for a playoff showdown. On Saturday, the Bulls will gird for a NorCal semifinal victory after defeating Marin Catholic in four sets Oct. 19 for the MCAL semifinal.

“I’ll look back on our match the last time we played them and see what worked, see what didn’t,” Brazil said. “And hopefully keep us injury-free and healthy and ready to go for Saturday.”