WATSONVILLE — The Watsonville High girls’ volleyball team had many factors in its favor heading into Wednesday night’s Central Coast Section play-in match against North Salinas High.
The Wildcatz were set with home-court advantage and were riding on a 12-match winning streak.
But Watsonville lost a heartbreaker to the Vikings in five sets, 25-20, 17-25, 23-25, 25-20, 15-7, and a chance to clinch a berth for the CCS playoffs.
The Wildcatz also lost their all-star outside hitter, senior Camila Cardenas, who went down in the fourth set, favoring her right knee.
Watsonville coach Tina Pendleton said at that point the team was deflated and couldn’t believe what had happened to its leader.
“They tried to pick it up but they couldn’t pick up their heads,” Pendleton said. “Their hearts weren’t in it, their hearts were with Camila (Cardenas) on the bench. It’s hard when that happens.”
Watsonville libero Devyn Bugayong said they did everything they could to win without their all-league outside hitter.
“Our energy kind of went down after that,” Bugayong said. “We tried our hardest but I think it really got us when (Cardenas) got hurt.”
Both losses were a big setback for Watsonville.
They were left out of an at-large bid in Thursday’s CCS seeding meeting. Pendleton said the Wildcatz were the final team to not make the cut.
And there’s still no word on whether Cardenas would have been able to return if the Wildcatz had earned an at-large bid.
The Wildcatz won the Pacific Coast Athletic League Santa Lucia division title with a 14-1 league record.
It was their first league title since 2011 and second one in school history.
They also finished the regular season with a 16-7 overall record, including Wednesday night’s loss to the Vikings.
Pendleton said they lost about 10 kills and two aces per set with Cardenas out of the match.
“That’s 12 points right there when she goes down,” Pendleton said.
North Salinas quickly took command in the first set and went up by as many as six points to start the match. The Wildcatz crawled right back to within two points, 20-18, but the Vikings went on a 5-2 run to close it out.
Watsonville responded back in the second set with a crushing eight-point win. They kept the pedal to the metal in the third and showed signs of resilience, coming back from a five-point deficit to take the set.
“They picked it up and they started playing right in the second and third set,” Pendleton said. “We go to a fourth set and we’re winning… we should’ve been out of here.”
The Wildcatz kept on rolling in the fourth set until Cardenas was sidelined with the injury, which was a punch to the gut they couldn’t recover from. They built a 17-10 lead and looked to close it out at home on a high note.
But, the Vikings scored nine straight points to take the lead and never looked back. They went on to win the final two sets and the match.
Cardenas could only watch from the bench with an ice pack on the right knee and tears rolling down her cheeks.
“We had all the momentum,” Pendleton said. “We should be going to CCS.”
They swept North Salinas in three sets on Sept. 3 without their star player, who attended a wedding that day.
Still, Joi Valorosa said it wasn’t the same knowing Cardenas wouldn’t come back to play after the injury.
“I was hoping that we would push harder and use it as motivation,” Valorosa said. “We did, we pushed it to five sets… we just tried so hard.”
Editor’s note: This article will be published in the Nov. 1 edition of The Pajaronian.