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Beach Volleyball

Kathryn Plummer, Milica Mirkovic Take Home Santa Barbara Open Title

Kathryn Plummer blocks a ball hit by Sammy Slater during the finals of the Santa Barbara Women’s Open at East Beach. Click to view larger
Kathryn Plummer blocks a ball hit by Sammy Slater during the finals of the Santa Barbara Women’s Open at East Beach. (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

The final of the California Beach Volleyball Association Santa Barbara Women’s Open featured the future of the sport.

And the future looks very bright. Three of the four players on the court in front of the East Beach Bath House just graduated from high school and the fourth player completed her freshman year at Stanford.

The Orange County team of Kathryn Plummer and Milica Mirkovic won the championship over Ventura’s Sammy Slater and Haley Hallgren of Dallas, Texas, 21-15, 21-18, in breezy conditions on Sunday afternoon.

The net play of the 6-foot-6 Plummer was definitely a factor in the match. Her height forced Slater and Hallgren to set the ball away from the net.

Milica Mirkovic dives in the sand to make a dig during the title match. Click to view larger
Milica Mirkovic dives in the sand to make a dig during the title match. (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

“It’s definitely difficult, especially since I’m seven inches shorter than her,” said Slater. “We found a way to get under and over her block (in the second set) and almost had it there.”

The lefty-swinging Slater and Hallgren cleaned up their game in the second set and played evenly against Plummer and Mirkovic. 

“I think the difference was our setting, we were pushing (the sets) a little far off (the net).  And, our attitude coming into the game,” said Hallgren of her team’s improved play in the second set.

Plummer’s presence at the net and her and Mirkovic’s ability to use the wind on their serves helped them open up a big lead in the first set. A Plummer block and an ace by Mirkovic keyed a three-point run that gave them a 10-5 lead.

“I think we just played the wind better,” said Plummer, who in her freshman year at Stanford helped the Cardinal win the NCAA indoor volleyball championship and earned All-American honors. “East Beach gets windy and that’s definitely a game changer.”

Said Slater: “They both have really good float serves. They move a lot in the wind, and we weren’t moving our feet.”

In the second set, Slater-Hallgren did a better job controlling the ball and moving it around and under Plummer’s block.

“We had a lot more energy and we weren’t as timid as were against Kathryn’s block. We were making sure we were doing the little things and we cleaned up the fundamentals,” said Slater, who led Ventura High to a school-record 36-3 mark and the CIF-SS Division 2 Championship in the fall and was named the CIF Division 2 Player of the Year.

Slater-Hallgren were ahead 13-12 before Plummer-Mirkovic went on a 4-0 run to take the lead for good. Plummer showed she her all-around game in the run, hitting off a block and then making a nice “gator” dig before putting the ball away.

Mirkovic, whose nickname is Mee-Ma, finished off the set and match with a couple of big kills. She is headed to Cal while Slater and Hallgren are both bound for USC in the fall.

The Open Division title was the second of the season on the CBVA Tour for Plummer and Mirkovic, who knocked out defending champs Jace Pardon and Brittany Tiegs in the semifinals. The pair are preparing for the FIVB Under-21 Championships in China later this month. They have won bronze medals playing together in past international events, last year’s FIVB U-19 Championships and the 2014 U-17 Worlds.

“We’ve been training really hard the last three weeks,” Plummer said. "I kind of expected to come out with fire (in Santa Barbara). We still have a little work to do before we leave.”

Plummer said they train with Slater and Hallgren, who are the alternate team for the U.S. at the U-21 Worlds.

“We play them a decent amount and we’re 50-50 with them,” Hallgren said. “Today was just tougher.”

Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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