FAIRFIELD — After a pair of big upsets in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs, the Vanden High volleyball team finds itself in a spot where no Vikings squad has been in 37 years.
Fourteenth-seeded Vanden (18-7) now heads to Folsom Tuesday for a 7 p.m. matchup with No. 2 Vista Del Lago (23-11) in the SJS Division III semifinals after knocking off No. 3 River Valley and No. 6 Placer to get to this point.
“I’m pretty ecstatic about it,” said Vikings coach Cindy Scolavino. “I don’t think Vanden’s been in this boat since 1975.”
Things started off well in 2012 for the Vikings who battled to the end in a five-set loss to eventual Monticello Empire League champion Vacaville.
“We really started off the season on fire against Vacaville,” Scolavino said.
The Vikings continued to steamroll through the Solano County Athletic Conference, falling only to champion Benicia on three separate occasions.
“We kind of got our foot off the gas pedal,” Scolavino said. “It was very stressful for everybody. We should have been playing cleaner balls than we were.”
A change was in order, and with a roster full of interchangeable parts, the Vikings made some changes.
“We mixed things up and with that our passing was 100 percent better,” Scolavino said.
Bit by bit things really fell into place for the Vikings, who finished the SCAC season in second place behind Benicia.
A pair of late-season tournaments helped Vanden prepare for the playoffs, where the team has truly hit its stride, making adjustments and playing clean volleyball.
That much was apparent against River Valley and again at Placer.
“The nice thing about all this is they put up their big defense and we adjusted and we worked it and we were just able to keep ahead,” Scolavino said. “Our ability to pass and dig and communicate is just so fluid.”
Now that fluidity must continue if the slightly undersized Vikings hope to reach Thursday’s championship match at UC Davis.
Vanden’s tallest player is 5-foot, 11-inch hitter Meghan Herout, who also shares setting duties with athlete extraordinaire Rochelle Roberts.
Vista del Lago, meanwhile, has three girls who stand taller than 5-10, all middle blockers.
“I’ve done some research, talked to referees and people who have seen the team play, and Placer, Christian Brothers and and Vista are all well matched,” Scolavino said. “So I say don’t count Vanden out. I think we have a serious chance to do some damage.”
Being the 14 seed and getting this far is a big confidence boost for the Vikings.
“We have some motivation behind us right now,” the coach said. “We really have a good push going.”
The players definitely know the kind of school history they’re trying to make, but they’re not letting it get to them.
“I’m trying to keep the girls nice and relaxed,” Scolavino said. “I told them, ‘You’re always going to run into a bigger, stronger team. The trick is to play your game keep it clean.’ We’ve been able to do that because we’re so versatile.”
The key for the Vikings has been to keep mixing up offenses and defensive schemes.
“We never let them settle in,” Scolavino said. “We mix players up and with all those things going, it puts us in a really good position.”
The Vikings will have to keep that up Tuesday, but Scolavino isn’t worried about her team letting up.
“We’re not a big team, we’re a smart team,” she said. “I’ll always choose a team that works together. . . . They’re not going to give up on each other.”
Reach Mike Corpos at 427-6979, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mcorposdr.