It was supposed to be a shot at revenge. Instead, it just became an extension of a painful losing streak.
No player on the Berkeley High girls’ volleyball team knows what it feels like to beat cross-town rival Bishop O’Dowd, after Berkeley’s 16-14, 15-9, 15-2 loss on Tuesday marked the fifth straight year that the Dragons have defeated the ’Jackets.
Last season, Berkeley (6-2) dominated its league opponents and won the Alameda Contra Costa Athletic League title without dropping a match. O’Dowd (2-1), however, sent the ’Jackets packing in the first round of the playoffs.
It’s not as if O’Dowd’s powerful offense caught the ’Jackets by surprise. In fact the Dragons’ star hitter, Nikki Esposito, played on an off-season club team coached by Berkeley head coach Justin Caraway.
“We spent all week preparing to block her and we did a terrible job of it,” Caraway said. “She hit the ball crosscourt every time and not once did we close the block and take that away from her.”
Berkeley’s familiarity with O’Dowd’s top weapon mattered little after poor passing handcuffed ’Jackets’ hitters.
“I knew exactly what they had and we just didn’t execute in terms of blocking,” Caraway said. “We didn’t execute at all in terms of passing, particularly toward the end of the second and all of the third game.”
Caraway said sloppy sets led to the ineffectiveness of Berkeley’s Desiree Young. The towering senior, who played for a youth national team this summer, had just three kills in the entire match.
“If we can’t pass the ball and take advantage of a 6-foot-5 middle, then we deserve to lose,” he said.
Young, who took just two swings in the second game and one in the third, notched only a single kill in the final two sets. Junior Vanessa Williams attempted three swings in the second and five in the third, resulting in two kills.
“That is not going to get it done on a team that’s designed around the middles,” Caraway said. “If we can’t pass, the middles aren’t going to swing and my outsides aren’t strong enough to carry the offensive load when they need to.”
Berkeley led by as many as four points early in the opening game, but Caraway said that mental mistakes and passing errors let the Dragons escape with a 16-14 win. The ’Jackets weren’t able to recover after falling behind early in the second as O’Dowd scored the final five points of the game en route to a 15-9 victory.
The ’Jackets unraveled in the final game and quickly fell behind 7-0. Caraway benched two of his outside hitters, Ilana Baar and Gina Colombatto, and watched his team lose 15-2 in just 14 minutes.
“They had one big hitter (Esposito) and we just couldn’t get the block closed and she just wore us down the whole time,” said Berkeley Williams, who finished the match with seven kills.
“I thought my outside hitters did a terrible job hitting,” Caraway said. “They passed pretty well, they defended fairly well, but errors abound on the outside.”
Caraway plans to concentrate on passing this week as the team prepares to open ACCAL competition against Richmond on Sept. 25.
“I do not expect league play to be very difficult for us, except Encinal and even then I don’t think it will be too tough,” Caraway said. “I think we demonstrated last year, going undefeated, that we were the class of the league in terms of talent.
“But,” he added, “if we can’t pass, on any given day anyone can beat us.”