Skyline High School's 2022 OAL championship volleyball team. Credit: Nick Lozito

Before their Oakland Athletic League title match with Oakland Technical High School on Oct. 27, the Skyline High School girls volleyball players raced onto the court and threw plastic thundersticks into the home crowd. Fans banged the red inflatable noise-makers to energize their team—and perhaps instill some fear into Tech—as the athletes warmed up on the court.

The artificial clapping soon gave way to a sound far more dreadful to opponents’ ears—volleyballs smacking the hardwood court, delivered by the powerful right-handed spikes of Skyline outside hitters Victoria Gonzalez and Michaela Branner.

Skyline defeated Tech in three sets (25-21, 25-15, 25-14), with Gonzalez, a senior, and Branner, a junior, combining for double-digit kills (a statistic awarded for an unreturned spike, resulting in a point).

Charlotte Albert, a second-team all-OAL selection, stays upbeat during Skyline’s semifinal win over Castlemont. Credit: Nick Lozito

“We always want to push ourselves,” Gonzalez said after hoisting the championship trophy and celebrating with family members and classmates. “We’re a powerhouse.”
The league title advanced Skyline, along with runner-up Oakland Tech, into the Oakland Section tournament. The Oakland Section, among the smallest sections in the California Interscholastic Federation, includes the Oakland Athletic League (made up of 10 public high schools across Oakland) and the Bay Area Charter Schools Athletic Conference (made up of charter schools from across the Bay Area, including Oakland).

After winning their Oakland Section semifinal matches Tuesday, Skyline and Tech will meet in the championship match at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 3, at Fremont High School. Tickets can be purchased on the HomeTown Fan mobile ticketing app. 

“We go for every ball,” Branner said of her and Gonzalez’s competitive nature. Gonzalez was named OAL MVP and Branner earned all-league honors. “We push each other to be great.” 

YouTube video

During the league championship victory over Tech, the duo lept high above the net time after time and blasted volleyballs to all corners of the court. “We talk before the match about how many kills we want to achieve,” said Branner, who tweaked her shoulder in warmups after one particularly punishing spike. “We push each other, because we’re both very valuable members of the team. I look up to her. She swings hard, so I want to swing hard now.”

The outside hitter credits the accurate passing of setter Yan Wong, a sophomore, with helping the team go undefeated once again in Oakland Athletic League play. 

“She’s always asking, ‘How do you want to ball?’” Branner said of Wong’s passing accuracy. “We connect really well because of our bond and chemistry on the court. We’re getting better each year together. We’re family–especially me and Yan, we’re like sisters. And that’s everything, because if you don’t have a bond with your setter, you’re not going to play well.”

Wong joined Gonzalez as a first-team all-OAL selection, an honor awarded to a few of the best players of each position of all the teams in the entire league. Charlotte Albert, who plays the libero position (a defensive specialist who can’t leave the back row or attack above the net), earned second-team with Branner, and middle blocker Leila Fite earned honorable mention honors.

April Samate (number 24) rallies her Castlemont High teammates during their semifinal match with Skyline. Credit: Nick Lozito

Skyline sits atop the OAL league currently; the junior varsity team, coached by Michaela’s older sister Genesis, beat Oakland High for the OAL title.

Tech will lose two all-OAL players to graduation in outside hitter Holland Rouquette and setter Elise Schweng. However, freshman blocker Jhai Johnson, sophomore outside hitter Joslin Schreiber and junior setter Sabina Nieto give Tech plenty of reason for optimism. The Bulldogs’ only Oakland Athletic League losses over the past two seasons have come against Skyline.

In the OAL tournament semifinals, Castlemont High School sophomore Lanasia Sipp dove across the court time after time to keep Skyline spikes from hitting the hardwood. Sipp, a sophomore, earned first-team all-OAL honors this season, which bodes well for a team that improved its OAL record from 0-5 in 2021 to 4-4 this season, according to MaxPreps.

McClymonds High first-team all-OAL selection Serenity Hay, left, with Lisa Busbee-Young, who earned co-coach of the year. Credit: Nick Lozito

In a quarterfinal loss to Oakland High, McClymonds High School middle hitter Serenity Hay, a senior, displayed athleticism and leadership that earned her first-team honors, as well. 

Other first-team selections are London Edwards and Laila Goodman of Madison Park Academy, Valeria Ruiz of Coliseum College Prep Academy. McClymonds’s Lisa Busbee-Young and Castlemont’s Herman Scanlan earned co-coach of the year honors.

In addition to tonight’s Oakland Section championship game, Skyline and Tech will also advance to the CIF Girls Volleyball State Championship. Matches begin Tuesday, Nov. 8. Skyline won last season’s Division V Northern California title over San Francisco’s Drew High School before losing to Santa Clarita Christian in the state title match.

Nick Lozito is a Sportswriter and designer whose work has appeared in The Oaklandside, Berkeleyside, KQED, San Francisco Chronicle, and other publications. He is a graduate of Oakland Technical High School and Sacramento State University.