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Girls volleyball: Alhambra aiming at NCS playoffs after extended absence

A year after registering its first Diablo Foothill Athletic League win since 2007, the Alhambra High girls volleyball team is taking aim at North Coast Section Division 3 playoffs.

The Bulldogs’ 14-match win streak to start the season sure seems like reason to believe it could happen for the first time in, well, a while.

“Nobody knows exactly when but everybody thinks it’s been at least 20 years” since Alhambra made the postseason, coach Willie Marchesano said. “The girls have put a lot of work. I’ve got to give them props.”

Eleven players returned from last year’s 12-18 squad, which graduated only senior libero Glenna Herbert, and Marchesano said all eleven elected to participate in open gym sessions this summer.

“In the past we’ve been pretty good hitting-wise, but people weren’t playing defense,” said Marchesano, a Northgate alum whose twin brother Andrew is an assistant at Alhambra. “They’re really buying into the fact that they need to be good at defense.”

The change was immediately obvious, with road sweeps of Mt. Diablo, Ygnacio Valley and Antioch to start the season. Five more wins later, including a 3-2 victory over Freedom, the Bulldogs won all five of their matches in the third tier of the East County Invitational, even beating Freedom 2-0.

“I’m very impressed by the work they put it and how much better they are in four years,” Marchesano said. “Before, teams couldn’t wait to play us, but now they’re like, this team is a real challenge.”

Alhambra ran into its second challenge of the season in its Sept. 24 league opener at Miramonte. Senior libero Emma Farr sustained a concussion during a match that the Matadors won 3-1. “She got blasted in the face,” Marchesano said of Farr, who will be out at least another week.

That didn’t bode well for the Concord Varsity Tournament last weekend, when the Bulldogs went 2-3. “We lost we couple matches we definitely would have won with her,” Marchesano said. But even then Alhambra pushed Benicia, which was 29-2 and a Sac-Joaquin Section semifinalist last year, to a third set before falling.

That’s because Farr is far from the only skilled Bulldog. Senior captains Haley Jones and Lexy Swenson, middle blocker and setter respectively, lead the way with senior middle blocker Lexi Hammer also integral. Marchesano also mentioned junior outside hitter Ainise Taimani, a returning starter who missed the first few weeks while recovering from a leg fracture, and freshman middle blocker Sterling Parker, who stands 6-foot-1-inches.

“The cool thing is, this is the deepest team we’ve ever had, so it makes practices much better,” said Marchesano, who is in his fourth year with the program and third at the helm. “When they play each other at practice, everybody is just about equal.”

Darren Sabedra