In 24 years of coaching at the high school and club level, Heritage High School girls volleyball coach Janet Hannigan said this season with the Lady Patriots was by far her most successful and one she'll never forget.
Having finished third in the Bay Valley Athletic League behind Deer Valley and Liberty, Heritage (20-15) was awarded the No. 6 seed in the North Coast Section Division II playoff tournament.
Although the Lady Patriots made their playoff debut last season on the road against Petaluma, they had never hosted an NCS match. They had also never won one.
On Nov. 12, however, the Lady Patriots realized both of those dreams as they dispatched No. 11 Concord High 23-25, 25-9, 25-14, 25-20 before the home crowd in Brentwood.
It was really exciting, Hannigan said. The kids were thrilled, the fans and parents were thrilled. It was just nice to see these girls come so far and finally get a win in the playoffs.
Communication errors in game one caused Heritage to fall just short, but the team rebounded in the next three games and got its passing under control to pull off a first-round victory.
We just fell apart in that first game, Hannigan said. We basically gave it to them. But when we pass well it makes a huge difference, and that really helped get us back on track.
As pleased as she was to see her team win a playoff match, Hannigan said she was also happy to win one for the fans that have become so loyal. It was a good experience to share with our fans, Hannigan said. They're such an integral part of what we do. They've been a huge part of our program this year. They really encourage the girls and we just appreciate all the support they've given us this year.
Heritage brought those fans, with signs in tow, to Moraga on Nov. 15 for its round-two playoff match-up against Campolindo, which won the Division II state championship in 2006.
Despite a serious height disadvantage, Heritage held its own against the Cougars, but ultimately fell 25-16, 25-18, 25-23.
Although the Patriots were out-killed 41-25 on the night, Hannigan was pleased with her team's 17 blocks, the most any Heritage team has tallied in one match in program history.
Even though we lost, I thought our team played really well, she said. Campolindo looked like a college team. But we came out and we were scrappy and we came with the intention to win.
Hannigan credited the team's four senior players for providing leadership on and off the court this season. Brianna Swisher, Michelle Favolora,
Courtney Casey and LaShelle Rulan each played key roles in the Patriots' success, and Hannigan said she isn't looking forward to replacing them next year.
At the beginning of the season, the Heritage players devised a list of goals for the season, including advancing further into the playoffs than last year.
All but one of those goals was accomplished, which was to take a match off every team in the league. Deer Valley and Liberty prevented that from happening, but Hannigan is optimistic about next season's possibilities.
These girls keep gaining confidence and have really come to believe in themselves as a team, Hannigan said. I'm so proud of what they've accomplished this year. They showed a lot of integrity and class.