Casa Grande’s first venture into the North Coast Section volleyball playoffs in five seasons ended with a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Carondelet in Concord last week.

The home-standing Cougars (19-15) fielded a tall and agile front line anchored by senior hitter Kelly Ruff, and they rotated into the contest several teammates who formed a wall of blockers across the front line. Ruff and hitting specialist junior Katherine Vaccero finished with 12 kills each as Carondelet gradually pulled away from the feisty Lady Gauchos with a 25-21 win in the first set.

Vaccero came into the first round of the playoffs with an astounding 249 kills for the season.

Carondelet, a private Catholic high school, plays in the highly rated East Bay League filled by mostly Division I volleyball teams. Coach Jerry Mix rotated all players of the 16-girl roster into the fray.

It was clear from the opening rallies that the Gauchos didn’t travel to the East Bay to roll over for the fifth-seeded Cougars. Many slams by the taller Carondelet players were put back into play with digs and converted assists by Lauren McGuinn and senior setter Ani Hanakeawa. At times, Casa trailed by only one point late in the first set.

Despite the size of the Cougar front line and the absence of Kiley Cramer, the visitors put up a good fight as the crowd got into it on hard-earned points by both teams. Cramer, the tallest Gaucho, was on a trip planned before Casa surprisingly earned its way into postseason play.

Carondelet had no answer for terrific Gaucho freshman Awelina Fakalata, whose high leaping kills found open space from the left net and the back line. Fakalata finished with 17 kills on some sizzling shots that impressed even the partisan Cougar supporters.

After dropping a lopsided second set, the Gauchos delighted their small band of followers with an exciting 25-23 win in the next session to force the match into an additional set. Kills by Fakalata and senior Katerina Mahdavi kept the bottom half of the Cougar rotation off balance, but the margin remained close throughout.

Included in the surge by the Lady Gauchos was the longest rally of the evening capped by a winner by Mahdavi from the back row.

The hard-hitting hosts eventually wore down the Gauchos with a 25-12 win in the final set. Mahdavi continued her good work until the end with a couple of winners from the back row for Casa Grande. Mahdavi and Samantha Dedrickson were credited with two collective blocks in the set.

Carondelet advances to the second round of the NCS Division II playoffs when it hosts Washington of Fremont on Saturday night. A win could qualify the Cougars for extended play in the Nor Cal Tournament.

Coach Amber Taylor’s Gauchos end the year with eight victories in an abbreviated schedule caused by the recent fires.