The St. Francis High boys volleyball team – ranked fifth in the nation and the top seed in the Northern California Division I playoffs – has encountered few opponents good enough to make the Lancers pay for their mistakes.
They faced such a foe in Thursday night’s NorCal semifinals, and fourth-seeded Roseville turned many of those mistakes into points that enabled the visitors to pull off a four-set upset. The Tigers took down St. Francis 26-24, 16-25, 25-17, 25-18.
“They came out to play,” said senior setter Curtis Reitmeir, the Lancers’ team captain. “They just capitalized on every mistake we made tonight and that really won them the match.”
St. Francis’ effort was there – exemplified by the way Reitmeir dove for digs and got up for blocks – but the Lancers’ execution didn’t rise to the same level.
“I thought our guys battled pretty well,” St. Francis coach Jonah Carson said. “But you make a lot of errors and it gives a good opponent like that a lot of extra opportunities.”
St. Francis (34-3 overall) had an opportunity to win the back-and-forth first set, taking a 24-23 lead on middle blocker Stefan Medan’s kill off a tip pass from Reitmeir. But after Roseville’s Neal Reilly blistered the ball down the middle to tie the game, the Lancers faltered. Their next kill attempt went wide and they bumped the ensuing serve out of play, allowing the Tigers (36-7) to triumph.
After falling behind 3-0 in the second set, St. Francis took control with a 10-3 run featuring a deep kill and an ace from outside hitter Jerod Nelsen. The 6-foot-5 junior finished with a team-high 14 kills Thursday.
The Lancers’ lead grew to 16-10 on Nelsen’s cross-court kill – a stinging shot that deflected off a helpless Roseville player and into the upper deck of the gym – and the rout was on. Outsider hitter Alexander Biz sealed the 25-16 victory by scoring back-to-back points (kill and ace).
“Our passing was great (in the second set),” said Reitmeir, who notched 35 assists and three blocks in the match. “I was able to be in the pocket most of the time and just deliver simple balls. It made it very easy for our guys to get swings with just one blocker up.”
All of that changed in the third set when St. Francis started making mistakes again. The Lancers quickly found themselves in a 12-5 hole that they helped dig with a service error, two bad bumps and several kill attempts that went long or into the net.
Before long, Roseville was up 19-8. St. Francis answered with a 3-0 run capped by a Nelsen kill, but it wouldn’t get closer than seven points the rest of the way.
“I think it came down to some errors on our part, a little bit, and some really great defensive play on their part to find ways to not give us easy side-outs,” Carson said.
The Lancers got off to a fast start in the do-or-die fourth set, jumping to a 7-3 lead behind a pair of kills from both Nelsen and Medan. St. Francis extended the advantage to 14-7 before the Tigers clawed back. They went on a 17-3 run and, after a service error, won the match on a kill by Reilly.
“It got to a mental point where it wasn’t a lack of physical ability that kept us down,” Reitmeir said of St. Francis’ struggles in the final set. “We saw them coming, we had a lead, we lost the lead and then kind of imploded from there.”
However, the all-league setter said the loss doesn’t tarnish an otherwise stellar season for the Lancers, who won Central Coast Section and West Catholic Athletic League titles.
“I just love this team and love this program,” he said. “I’m proud of how we battled in every match we played.”