There was no doubt about the outcome when the Carson Senators and South Tahoe Vikings collided in an important Sierra League volleyball match on Saturday afternoon.
There were no secrets, either. South Tahoe simply played inspired and heads-up ball to sweep Carson in three straight sets and secure control in the race for second-place in the league.
Not did Carson coach Daryl James make any excuses after watching the Senators fall 15-6, 15-11, 15-6 in their final home match of the season at Morse Burley Gymnasium.
"They played very well. They were the better team," James said. "We were both fighting for the same thing, they just fought a little harder."
Carson is now 13-5 and South Tahoe 12-5 in the race for second-place in the league standings, but South Tahoe now holds an edge in the tie-breaker. While both split their two regular season meetings and have identical records against common opponents, the last step in the tie-breaker formula goes to the team that won the second meeting.
The Vikings seem to be playing at their highest level of the season right now. At least that was the case against Carson.
"This was the best game we've played," said senior setter Jessica Urreaga, who handed out 26 assists to go with five kills. "It's the most intensity and I think we played smart."
The Vikings received some prodding from coach Gary Hankoff in the team huddle between the first and second games.
"I don't want to see anybody sleepwalking now," said Hankoff, who departed immediately after the match to watch his daughter, Adrienne, who played for Washington State in a match at Stanford on Saturday night.
"We were a little slow in the beginning, but we picked it up," Urreaga said. "Our defense was very good today, and our blocking."
The Senators took an early 3-1 lead in game one, but then they fell victim to inaccuracy from the service line. They committed eight service errors in the first game alone, including three straight during a stretch when the Vikings extended their lead from 7-5 to 13-5.
"We had 18 aces against North Valleys (on Thursday) and then we come back and serve 14 out today," James shrugged.
The Senators showed signs of life in game two. Megan Anderson, who was honored during a brief pre-match ceremony as the team's lone senior, served an ace to tie the score at 4. Teresa Niederer put down two blocks in the middle and then converted a quick set from Tabitha Adams into a kill to give the Senators an 8-4 lead.
South Tahoe came back with Urreaga distributing the ball equally between Jessica Dilegame and Rachel Hankoff - who had seven and six kills in the second game alone. And when Carson's defense braced to stop the two big hitters, Urreaga spotted an opening and dinked the ball for a point that broke an 11-11 tie. Kristen Burrell put down a block and then Urreaga set Burrell, who tipped the ball to an opening on the right sideline to make it 14-11.
"We were were doing the right things when we needed to do them," Urreaga said.
Dilegame finished with 13 kills and Hankoff 10 for the Vikings.
Carson's attack was spread out, led by Niederer and Rachael DeRiemer with nine kills each, Anderson with seven and Kaitlin Brush with five. Setter Tabitha Adams had 29 assists and four blocks.
South Tahoe hosts Wooster on Tuesday and Hug on Thursday to close the regular season heading into the single elimination Northern 4A Regional Tournament on Nov. 2-3 at Galena High School. Carson ends its regular season at Hug on Tuesday.
"They deserve second-place," James said of the Vikings. "They're a good team right now. They're a force. Anybody they play in the tournament had better be ready for a battle."