Riders eye Quakers in volleyball tourney Thursday night

“The chemistry that we have now is a lot closer than it was in the beginning,” said Caesar Rodney senior Ana Lucia Villabona. The 9-5 Riders face Wilmington Friends in Thursday night’s opening round of the volleyball state tournament at Tatnall. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

CAMDEN — Ana Lucia Villabona hasn’t forgotten that this is her last season of high school volleyball, of course.

The Caesar Rodney High senior just tries to block it out sometimes.

“It’s bittersweet,” Villabona admits. “I go out there and try to make the best of it. But also, in the back of your mind, there’s that little voice saying, ‘It’s the last time.’”

Villabona and her CR teammates will go out tonight and try to extend their season a little bit longer when they face Wilmington Friends in the first round of the DIAA volleyball state tournament.

The 14th-seeded Riders (9-5) take on the No. 19 Quakers (5-10) at 6 p.m. at Tatnall. No. 22 Lake Forest (11-4) then squares off with No. 11 Tatnall (10-5) in the second match of the opening-round doubleheader.

In a twinbill at Smyrna, No. 17 Cape Henlopen (10-5) plays No. 16 Delaware Military (7-6) at 6 p.m. before No. 9 Smyrna (11-5) duels No. 24 Brandywine (11-4) in the nightcap. Also tonight, No. 23 Sussex Academy (8-5) goes to No. 10 Red Lion Christian (10-5) for a 7 p.m. match.

CR is trying to make it to the tournament’s second round for the second straight year. When it comes to volleyball, downstate squads are never considered serious threats to capture the state title.

The 2010 CR team is the only Henlopen Conference program to make it as far as the semifinals.

Zach Taylor

“There’s definitely a difference between north and down here,” said Riders’ senior Sara Cessna, who plays on an upstate club team. “It is definitely different. But it’s getting better.

“They take it very seriously up there. Down here, we just want to play volleyball, we just want to have fun. We don’t really make it like a job.”

That being said, CR worked hard to earn its spot in the state tournament. The Riders won six of their last nine matches to get here.

All five of their losses came against programs that are in the 24-team tourney field.

“There were one or two moments when I was like, ‘We need to pick it up as a team,’” said Villabona. “But I knew that we’d get here.

“It was definitely a new team, something that we had to get in the swing of. But the chemistry that we have now is a lot closer than it was in the beginning.”

“There’s definitely a difference between north and down here,” said Riders’ senior Sara Cessna, who plays on an upstate club team. “It is definitely different. But it’s getting better.” (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“We’ve been doing stuff since June to get ready to be here at this moment,” said coach Zach Taylor. “It’s nice to be in the tournament and have a chance to go far. … Trying to advance farther than we did last year is a goal for us.”

Despite Friends’ sub-.500 record, CR’s players say they know better than to take the Quakers lightly. Friends has faced all the top programs in the state.
The Quakers have also made it to the state quarterfinals for each of the last three seasons.

“I think we know that Friends is a good team,” said Taylor. “And their record doesn’t really indicate how good that they are.

“But we also feel like we have a good idea of what they’re going to try to do and what we need to do to take it away. It’s just about execution and confidence.”

The winner of today’s CR-Friends match has to head north to play at No. 3 Ursuline at 6 p.m. in Saturday’s second round.

While that would be an even more daunting task, the Riders just want to keep their season going as long as they can.

“It’s definitely the most exciting (time of the season),” said Cessna. “I think all the girls have the determination to keep going. They don’t care who we play, they just want to keep playing.

“We look at the team that we’re about to play. We don’t look at who’s seeded one, who’s seeded second. You have to think of every team as the best team. You just go out there and play your best and see how it goes.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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