ALL-AREA VOLLEYBALL: Massengale earns back-to-back POY
If a single play summed up Taylor Massengale's stellar prep career, it was in a nonleague match early this season.
One of the fiercest hitters the Mid-Valley area has ever produced, River Valley High's senior middle blocker timed her jump, skied high above the net and hit a rocket directly toward an unsuspecting Laguna Creek player.
The ball struck with such force that everyone in the gym stopped still, causing Massengale's teammates to cover their faces with their jerseys to hide the laughter.
"Their blocker couldn't get there in time, and she hit a ball down the right side that hit this girl in the side of the cheek," River Valley coach Jenny Dove recalled. "You could tell she was dazed. The girls had to grab her and tell her where to go.
"I wanted her to hit the ball hard, and some teams just weren't prepared for someone like Taylor."
It was moments like those that made the 6-foot-2 Massengale such a dominant presence on the volleyball court, and while she would never try to intentionally hurt someone, the laser shots she let loose actually made Dove fear for the safety of opposing players.
"Honestly, when I'm out on the court, I don't think about hitting it hard," Massengale said. "I just look for the opening and try to hit it there."
The openings were there quite often for Massengale, who went on to finish with 341 kills (4.9 kills per set), 61 solo blocks and a .433 hitting percentage during a senior year in which she led the Falcons to a 21-3 record and the program's first outright league championship.
A three-time All-Tri-County Conference pick, Massengale earned Appeal-Democrat All-Area Player of the Year honors for the second straight season and will leave RV with school records in both kills and blocks.
But there was more than just her spikes and blocks.
This season, she evolved into not only a big hitter at the net, but a player who could do a little bit of everything on the court.
During the summer with her North Valley Jrs. competitive team, Massengale was forced to play on the back row due to a shortage of players. She worked one-on-one with coach Julia Coats to improve her game and it paid off this fall when she served 31 aces and made 119 digs, showing off the skills that earned her a scholarship to play at Cal State Stanislaus next season.
"She's the tallest player I've coached, but she became the full package — especially this year where she played all six rotations, which is difficult for a girl her size," Dove said. "She was one of our best defensive players. She never did it before, but she stepped into that role."
For Massengale, playing everywhere on the court quickly became an added bonus.
"I was nervous at first, but I grew to love playing on the back row," she said. "It's different than a kill, but I liked getting a perfect dig and getting it to (setter) McKenzie (Skyberg) to set up a kill."
Her goals entering the season were simple: hang another banner in Falcon Gymnasium and earn a scholarship. She went on to do both.
During the summer, Massengale went to camps at Cal State Monterey Bay and the University of San Francisco, both of which made scholarship offers. However, it was her initial visit to Stanislaus that made the biggest impact.
"I felt really at home there," Massengale said. "The players on the team were very nice and welcoming. I think it's a perfect fit."
While she will be taking her talents to the collegiate level next season, Massengale said she will miss her time with Dove, Skyberg, Amrita Dale and Sierra Pedley, teammates with whom she's formed a tight bond with over the years.
"We played club together for three years and we all got really close," she said. "That was definitely a part of our success this season."
With several school records, her legacy at River Valley is firmly in place. But it's her strong character, as well as helping turn the Falcons into a consistent winner, that will always stand out to her coach.
"She played a big part in turning the program around. We've ridden her back all the way," Dove said. "She's a great kid and I've loved every second coaching her."
Erika Larsen, Sr., Sutter
She gained a reputation across the Mid-Valley for her basketball prowess, but Larsen became one of the top forces on another kind of court this season.
Despite her 6-foot-2 frame, Larsen said she didn't know the first thing about volleyball when she stepped on to the Sutter campus as a freshman. She put it all together in her senior season.
Larsen led the Butte View League with 79 blocks, 63 of which were solo, while earning BVL MVP honors. She held a .254 hitting percentage with 91 kills and was selected to play at the North vs. South Senior All-Star game at Willows High held on Dec. 2.
"Her team leadership was amazing," said Sutter coach Ann Reynolds. "I don't know where we would have been without it."
Kirstin Johnson, Sr., Wheatland
The Pirates' senior leader in the middle led the BVL with 268 kills this season utilizing her powerful swing and great leaping ability.
She was versatile at every spot in the rotation with 50 blocks and 78 digs to go with 130 service receptions.
Johnson also served 31 aces and played at the North vs. South Senior All-Star game
She was an All-BVL selection and probably could have added to her stats if not for a sprained ankle that kept her out for three games.
Maddie Collins, Sr., Yuba City
A force at the net for the Honkers, Collins makes the A-D's All-Area team for the second straight year.
She led the Sac-Joaquin Section with a gaudy 198 blocks this season and 127 solo blocks. Her 246 kills ranked second in the TCC behind Massengale and Collins hit at a .356 percentage.
Collins was also effective from the service line where she tallied 48 aces.
She was named to the All-TCC squad.
Ashtyn MacFarlane, Sr., Gridley
An outstanding three-sport standout for the Bulldogs, MacFarlane showed off that athleticism on the volleyball court this season.
With an impressive vertical jump and strong swing, MacFarlane tallied 263 kills which ranked second in the BVL this year and she earned All-BVL accolades.
MacFarlane, who also excels in basketball and softball, was solid all around the court for Gridley with 93 digs, 20 blocks and 68 service aces.
She was named to the All-Northern Section's third team and played in the North vs. South Senior All-Star game.
Ava Payton, Jr., Sutter
Though more of a quiet personality, Payton let her swing do much of the talking this year with 189 kills for the Huskies while earning an All-BVL selection and a second team spot on the All-Northern Section team.
She led Sutter with 31 service aces and held her own in the back row as well with 54 digs.
McKenzie Skyberg, Sr., River Valley
A two-time All-TCC selection for the Falcons, Skyberg totaled 309 assists while setting up Massengale.
Skyberg showed excellent court vision with 77 kills mixed in with those assists and 32 aces from the service line. The Falcons' senior also had 127 digs.
Ally Reines, Fr., Yuba City
Rolling around on the gym floor, diving for balls and taking hard serves are just part of the territory at the libero position and Reines excelled at it in just her freshman season with the Honkers.
Reines led the TCC with 365 digs and was a superb passer from the back row. Opposing coaches purposefully tried to serve away from her during the season due to her passing capabilities.
She was an All-TCC selection.