Pirates to take on American River in State Quarterfinals

Pirates to take on American River in State Quarterfinals



COSTA MESA -- Only eight teams remain standing and a state champion will be decided this coming weekend as the Orange Coast College women's volleyball team heads to Fresno City College for the 2022 California Community College Athletic Association Women's Volleyball State Championships.

It was "upset Saturday" in the south as a pair of underdog programs -- No. 9 Grossmont and No. 10 College of the Canyons -- knocked out top-seed Ventura and No. 2 Irvine Valley to push the Pirates into the No. 2 seed out of Southern California. OCC (21-5) will take on the No. 3 seed from the north, American River College (23-4), on Friday at 4 p.m. at FCC. The winner of that match will take on the winner between the north's top seed, San Joaquin Delta (25-3) and the south's No. 4 seed, Canyons (20-8), on Saturday (time TBA). The championship finals will take place on Sunday at Fresno City College, beginning at 2 p.m.

"We really do have a pretty amazing group of girls," sophomore libero Emily Payne said. "Each and every one of us contribute something special to this team. I can't begin to tell you how excited we are to be able to try and bring back a state title to OCC."

After finishing the regular season as the runner-up in the always-tough Orange Empire Conference, the Pirates earned a No. 5 seed and opened their playoff run with fellow OEC neighbor, Cypress College. The Chargers, the last team to beat the Pirates (a five-set loss back on Nov. 4), were no match for the Pirates, who advanced to the regional finals with a 25-21, 25-14, 20-25, 25-20 win.

With a trip to No. 4-seed San Diego Mesa College on the immediate horizon, Coast was afforded a second home playoff match after Santa Barbara City College upset the Olympians in five sets, setting up a regional finals that was completely up for grabs.

Playing on the one-year anniversary of the passing of longtime OCC assistant coach, Adrian Delgado, the Pirates not only played for a state tourney opportunity, the sophomores were playing for their fallen Pirate family member.

With heavy hearts and renewed focus, the Pirates overcame an opening-set stumble and outlasted a SBCC squad that was playing with nothing to lose, topping the Vaqueros, 26-28, 26-24, 25-20, 18-25, 15-13, to give OCC a spot in the state tourney for the first time since winning it all back in 2009.

"We are truly a family and everyone did their parts to get us here today," middle blocker Paige Cutwright said. "They win against SBCC was so special ... not only because we advanced to the state tournament, but because it was also the one-year anniversary of Adrian's passing. I was just so proud of how everyone fought and put their everything into winning that match.

"To me, this season was about finishing what we started last year. We went through so much towards the end of the of the season and I knew that this year was going to be a second chance. the connection with the returners was undeniably strong and it was so amazing to have everyone who was new fit perfectly in with one another."

The steady force for the Pirate offense has been sophomore outside hitter Brisa Zapata-Reaves, who led OCC with 17 kills and a season-best 32 digs on Saturday against the Vaqueros. This season, she has racked up 279 kills and 317 digs, showing the collegiate world that she is much more than just a beach volleyball player. "I am so unbelievably honored to have helped this team make it to the state tournament," Zapata-Reaves said. "We all have fought so hard and made so many sacrifices for each other to get to where we are right now. it was a very emotional time for all of us (after beating SBCC) because of the hard work paying off and seeing each other all so excited and happy made me a little emotional, I'd say."

Freshmen sluggers Kingsley Mason (150 kills) and Leah Thibault (140 kills, 223 digs, 49 aces) have provided the Pirates plenty of offensive options, but one "X-factor" of late has been the play of sophomore Emma Honea, who is finally healthy at the right time of the season and has racked up 56 of her 90 kills this year over her past five matches, becoming yet another option for the OCC setters to choose from.

Freshman setter Grace Holmgren has been the quarterbacking the OCC offense for the majority of the season, dishing out 634 assists to go along with 182 digs, with Kylie Terakawa (158 assists, 82 digs, 16 aces) working her way into the mix.

In the middle, Cartwright (211 kills, .505 hitting percentage, 84 total blocks) and freshman Natalia Brandlin (145 kills, 105 total blocks) have anchored the play up front on both sides of the net, while Payne has become well acquainted with every square inch of the Peterson Gym floor with 501 digs this year. She is just the second OCC player to reach 1,000 digs for her career (1,050), joining Rylee Adair, who had 1,064 during the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

"We are all in this together," Payne said. "We all have one goal at the end and that is to win. With this strong passion, it should carry over into state. We know we can do this!"

Step One on this road to the top of the mountain is American River College, located in Sacramento. ARC battled Delta in the Big 8 Conference and finished second behind the Mustangs with a 14-2 conference record. The Beavers swept through Monterey Peninsula College in the second round of the regional playoffs and topped Sierra in the regional finals to set up Friday's matchup with the Pirates.

"We are preparing for this state championship by focusing on what we know how to do in practice," Zapata-Reaves said. "Also, while making sure we stay healthy and properly take care of business. The focus the past few practices has just been to keep focusing on how we can improve and clean up our game, while also taking it a little bit easier on our bodies so we are all able to play to the best of our abilities over the weekend."

While ARC has several offensive weapons to choose from, the Beaver offense starts and ends with sophomore outside hitter Awelina Fakalata. The 6'0 slugger is second in the state with 445 kills. Not JUST a hitter, Fakalata is second on her team with 342 digs and leads her team with 46 aces.

Much like the Pirates, the Beavers are a sophomore-led team with two-year standouts Shanaley Iakopo (152 kills), Kaley Settle (137 kills), Mia Santos (123 kills), Aurora Meneghetti (106 kills) and Sadie White (100 kills) atop the ARC kills leaderboard.

"I think if we stay mentally and physically strong, we are unstoppable," Cutwright said. "It will come down to just playing our game and trusting each other and the coaches. I always say to leave with no regrets because win or lose, we will know we put it all out on the court."

Added Payne, "I think the key to success is to play our game. We need to serve, pass, dig and hit our shots, while eliminating the unforced errors. If we do this, I believe we will come out on top."

For a team-by-team breakdown of all eight teams in the State Tournament, check out this page, courtesy of CCCWVCA Sports Information Director, Robert Lewis.