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Girls Volleyball

Laguna Blanca Drops CIF Semifinal Match in Five

Woodcrest Christian rallies from two sets down, keeps Owls from reaching second straight final

Julia Fay of Laguna Blanca hits past the Woodcrest Christian block of Emily White (11) and Raimi Albee during the CIF semifinal match. Click to view larger
Julia Fay of Laguna Blanca hits past the Woodcrest Christian block of Emily White (11) and Raimi Albee during the CIF semifinal match. (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

Top-seeded Laguna Blanca was right where it wanted to be: ahead two games to none and dominating play in the CIF-Southern Section Division 6 girls volleyball semifinal match at home.

Then Tesa Oaks and the Riverside-Woodcrest Christian Royals caught fire. And Laguna Blanca couldn’t extinguish them.  Oaks put away a whopping 39 kills and Woodcrest Christian played tremendous defense to score a stunning comeback victory at Merovick Gym and advance to the championship. The scores were 11-25, 19-25, 25-18, 25-21, 15-9.

“Whatever it is about them, we were in complete control and I don’t think we were overconfident by any stretch of the imagination,” Laguna Blanca coach Jason Donnelly said. “They started playing a little bit better and we were unable to adjust. Unfortunately in sports, as I told the kids, it happens. They got on a roll and we weren’t able to counter that.”

Oaks was the catalyst for the Royals. She put balls away from the outside, the back row and scored from the service line. Her teammates supported her by getting their hands on Laguna attacks, keeping plays alive and setting her the ball.

“It was no surprise to us,” Donnelly said. “We had a good scouting report, we knew what they were going to do. We kind of contained her in the first two games. We knew she was going to keep going – she had 38 kills in the quarters. We just couldn’t figure it out. Our serving and passing wasn’t as good as it’s been at the end of the match and that effected the way we play. We had some opportunities with transition digs and we just didn’t make them.”

It was the third straight come-from-behind five-set win for the Royals, who knocked off No. 4 seed Vistamar in the quarterfinals. Laguna Blanca was playing in its first five-set match of the season.

Woodcrest Christian coach Teri James didn’t have an answer for how her team has turned matches around in the playoffs.

Caylin Zimmerman of Laguna Blanca blocks the hitting attempt of Emily White of Woodcrest Christian. Click to view larger
Caylin Zimmerman of Laguna Blanca blocks the hitting attempt of Emily White of Woodcrest Christian. (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

“I don’t know how to explain it to you, but the last three matches we’ve dropped the first two (sets) and they’ve found a way to win the third, and it’s a whole different team,” said James. “They’ve learned to believe no matter how far behind they are, and that’s very powerful.”

Oaks is the team leader, “and the kids know that. You can tell,” James said. “They’ve been trained that when it’s crunch time and you need a point they’re going to get her the ball. And they gave her so many opportunities.”

It wasn’t that way in the first two sets. Laguna Blanca was near flawless in the first set. Laurel Kujan was bombing balls from the middle and serving aces, Caylin Zimmerman was putting balls away from the outside and Julia Fay went on a nine-point serving run to open up a 22-9 lead.

Kujan led the Owls with 24 kills and hit .340, while Zimmerman had 18 kills, Maddy Nicolson 12 kills and 30 digs. Libero Sophia Fay picked up 39 digs.

The hitting of Nicolson, Zimmerman and Kujan helped the Owls build a 20-16 lead in the second set.

The third set started with an ace by Kelly Bickett, but all of sudden the team on the other side of net was not the same. A kill by Oaks kicked off a six-point run. Oaks then sided out and served an ace to make it an 8-2 lead. Later in the set, she scored twice from the back row and the Royals got two more points on a Owls’ hitting error and a lift call to go up 16-6.

An ace by Oaks (she had six in the match) gave the Royals a 23-10 lead before Laguna Blanca stepped up its play and went on a seven-point run. But a service error and a kill by Oaks finished off the set.

Woodcrest Christian carried the momentum into the fourth set, building a 9-2 advantage. The Royals’ defense started picking up Laguna spikes and converting in transition. Two aces by Oaks gave them a 20-14 lead.

“We were 50-50 with long rallies and the ones we lost were at critical times, where momentum was up for grabs, and we couldn’t get it done,” said Donnelly.

The Owls fought back, cutting the deficit to 23-21 on a pair of Kujan aces and kills by Nicolson and Julia Fay. But Oaks delivered from the back row and Alexandria Frank completed a solo block for the winning point, tying the match at 2-2.

“For these kids, I just think it goes back to their resiliency, and they’ve learned that through these playoffs,” James said. “As they get more confident and comfortable, the defense picks up. In the first two games, you could see we were real tight, we’re not moving well, we’re not adjusting. But one of the things that seems to work well for us in the later part of a match is our blocking picks up. I thought our blocking in sets 3, 4 and 5 was just really key in slowing down what they were doing.”

With the score tied at 8-8 in the fifth set, Oaks scored on a deep ball, a spike off the block and another hit that Laguna couldn’t convert in transition. A bad pass that resulted in scrambling Laguna players going under the net gave the Royals a commanding 12-8 lead. Zimmerman sided out for the Owls, but Woodcrest Christian scored the last three points on kills by Emily White, Raimi Albee and Oaks.

Woodcrest Christian will play Crossroads on Saturday for the title. Crossroads beat Santa Ynez in the other semifinal, 25-9, 25-14, 25-17.

Despite the loss, Laguna Blanca (24-2) will receive a berth in the CIF State Tournament next week.

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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