Tigers capture first-ever section title

Roseville claimed a straight-sets win over Whitney High Saturday night in the championship
By: Jeff Nicholson and Steven Wilson
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A goal three years in the making finally came to fruition Saturday night inside a rival’s gym.

Thanks to outstanding performances from seniors Neal Reilly (14 kills), Zack Mancha (39 assists), Tommy Morin (19 digs) and junior Jacob Cole (14 kills, two aces), the top-seeded Tigers earned a straight-sets win over No. 6 seed Whitney in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section championship (25-20, 25-20 & 25-19).

The victory gives Roseville its first section title in school history, and helped the Tigers’ talented senior class fortify their spot in the record books as one of the best to ever step on campus.

“This is honestly a dream come true,” Mancha acknowledged. “We’ve been trying to bring home the section title for three years, but it’s a dream come true and I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way.”

After taking second place in each of the past two championship games, the Tigers were confident this year would be different.

“It’s incredible, I mean, three years to get here and we finally did it — words just can’t describe that,” Reilly admitted. “It’s simply awesome.”

Roseville’s 2017 squad also pushed their new coach, Marco Salcedo, past a hurdle that’s eluded his otherwise illustrious coaching career.

After falling short in four previous section title games with Nevada Union, Salcedo helped Roseville break through over the weekend and he choked up moments after the game-clinching point.

“It’s been so many years in the making,” Salcedo admitted after a thoughtful pause. “All of the years I’ve watched and coached boys volleyball, and being here (in the section championship) and watching that celebration on the other side of the court, to finally be part of that was awesome.

“This team took me in this year and we’ve become part of a family. I actually feel like I’ve been coaching these guys since they were little, and I can tell you it’s well deserved. These guys have earned it.”

Although they were playing inside Whitney’s home gym, and memories of their first matchup in the finals came flooding back, the Tigers overcame early adversity to smoke the competition.

Roseville trailed by two points early in the first set, but a timeout from Salcedo helped calm his team down and they went on a six-point spurt to retake control of the match.

“They started bickering a bit and you could see the nerves settling in,” Salcedo explained. “I knew right then, if I could nip this in the butt right now then we’ll be fine. I just reminded them to do what we do — a nice serve, strong serve-receive — and then we went on a run and the guys settled down.”

It didn’t take long after that for the Tigers to claim the first of three-straight dominant wins and complete the sweep.

“After taking second the last two years, and to win it against Whitney, that just feels great,” Cole admitted. “We wanted to beat them badly, because they beat us two years ago in the section finals, and we weren’t going to let them do that again.”

Saturday’s victory helped Roseville take the No. 4 seed in this week’s CIF NorCal Div. I championships and the team hosted De La Salle of Concord on Tuesday in the opening round — a rematch of last year’s NorCal opener.

But the Tigers handled it like any other match and easily extended their winning streak to eight games with a 3-0 sweep (25-19, 25-16 & 25-10).

The team has now won an astonishing 59-straight sets in the regular season and postseason, excluding tournament play.

“I knew coming in this year we were going to do well,” Reilly admitted. “We hoped for the best, but once we made it through the halfway point of the season without dropping a single set, I knew we could continue that all the way.”

For the most part, they’ve done it at the service line.

Roseville has racked up 241 service aces this season, including a team-high 70 from junior Jacob Cole. It’s been their recipe for success and their coach knows that needs to continue.

“We need to be the best serving team out there,” Salcedo noted. “We’ve accomplished that. We’ve taken out a lot of teams that might be considered to be better than us in some ways with our serving. We can serve short, deep; we have jump serves, float services. It takes your big teams out of it if they can’t pass the ball.”

Cole’s deadly jump serve is quite literally terrifying for defenses, but Roseville has a litany of potent offensive weapons and De La Salle eventually succumbed to the pressure.

Tuesday’s victory was more impressive because Salcedo hadn’t seen a scouting report on the Spartans, so he did what he usually does in that situation: He had his team try a little bit of everything.

“I’m trying to find their weak points,” he admitted. “Once I find their flaws, game two and game three, we attack them all the time. Our jump servers put up ace after ace after ace. Once you put a team down into the ground like that, it doesn’t take much.”

It didn’t Tuesday, as the final game score would attest. It’s a formula that’s worked all season for the Tigers.

“It’s been quite a season,” Salcedo said. “One of our goals was not to lose a set through league (play), then through the playoffs, and so far, we’re still rolling on that.”

However, the road gets a little tougher now.

The Sac-Joaquin Section Div. I champions will have to hit the road to take on the NorCal bracket’s top seed, St. Francis of Mountain View, which comes into today’s semifinal match with a 34-2 record this season.

The Lancers are ranked fourth in California and fifth in the U.S.

“I’ve got a little bit of a scouting report on their guys,” Salcedo acknowledged. “I know their coach and a few of their players. They have some D1 guys, one outside hitter — they’re big and tall.”

As usual, his game plan will start at the service line.

“You try to get him out of the system,” Salcedo said. “We’ll do things like short serves on him, making him come all the way up and then have to go back. Things like that. Make him move. The little things you do to take a hitter so they don’t get a full approach and a full-power hit.

“They’re a good team, but they’re beatable,” he added. “We just have to have our same type of game plan.”

Salcedo is hoping that plan helps the team gain at least one more win and reach Saturday’s finals. Tonight’s semifinals match begins at 7 p.m.