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Wednesday, January 23 , 2019, 4:31 pm | Fair 62º

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Girls Volleyball

Laguna Blanca’s Experience, Execution, Skill Too Much for Santa Barbara

Owls takes first step toward "City Championship" with a sweep over Dons

Caylin Zimmerman of Laguna Blanca hits over the block of Santa Barbara’s Brenna Carney, left, and Bella Gnaidek. Zimmerman led the Owls with 14 kills. Click to view larger
Caylin Zimmerman of Laguna Blanca hits over the block of Santa Barbara’s Brenna Carney, left, and Bella Gnaidek. Zimmerman led the Owls with 14 kills. (JC Corliss /Noozhawk photo)

Laguna Blanca gave a demonstration on the value of experience and execution in a three-set girls volleyball sweep over Santa Barbara High on Tuesday at Merovick Gym. The scores were 25-22, 25-18, 25-18.

The Owls, a defending CIF champion, used stellar ball control and defense to beat the Dons for the first time in three meetings.

Laguna Blanca is playing for a "City Championship" this season as it is taking on all three local Channel League schools — Santa Barbara, San Marcos and Dos Pueblos — in full matches.

“Credit the three public schools for playing us,” Laguna Blanca coach Jason Donnelly said. “They don’t have to play us, but they know we’re competitive and they know it’s going to be a good match. They go out on a limb to play us. We have an opportunity to do some good things.”

The unbeaten Owls (6-0) didn’t disappoint on Tuesday.

On defense, Sophia Fay led three players in double figures in digs with 17; Maddy Nicolson had 15 and Kendall White added 13. The team had 72 total digs.

Caylin Zimmerman and Laurel Kujan paced the Laguna Blanca attack with 14 and 10 kills, respectively, while setter Kelly Bickett handed out 37 assists and added five kills.

All six leaders Tuesday were part of last year’s Laguna Blanca team that won the CIF-Southern Section Division 4AA title and advanced to the CIF Division 4 State Tournament final.

Laurel Kujan reaches high for a set from Kelly Bickett of Laguna Blanca as Santa Barbara blocker Claire Baker looks on. Click to view larger
Laurel Kujan reaches high for a set from Kelly Bickett of Laguna Blanca as Santa Barbara blocker Claire Baker looks on. (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

Donnelly pointed out that’s all water under the bridge.

“We let go of last year pretty quickly,” he said. “The memories are always going to be there but we don’t talk about last year. We talk about finding our identity this year so (the players) know we got to beat good teams to do that.”

Santa Barbara, meanwhile, is a work in process.

“There are times we have only one senior on the court,” Santa Barbara coach John Gannon said. “We’re just a young bunch. That Laguna team is a good team, and you can see they play cohesively as a unit. Their defense is spot on, their ball control is really good and they just have a chemistry from playing together that we are trying to build. You can’t make up for all that experience of playing together. We’re trying but we’re not quite there yet.”

The Dons had their moments in the match in the first set. A kill by Linnea Skinner brought them to within three, 23-20, and an ace serve by Ellie Chenoweth made it 24-22.  But they couldn’t overcome the tenacious defensive play of Laguna Blanca. On the winning point, the Owls scrambled to keep the ball alive before Zimmerman scooped it into an open spot on the Santa Barbara side. The Dons (1-3) were stunned and the ball dropped to the floor.

“This program was built on the ability to out-ball control the other team,” Donnelly explained. “We spent so much time serving, passing and digging, and our kids have bought into it. They love it and they’re into it. They just love to play defense.”

Laguna Blanca (6-0) carried the momentum of the win into the second set and built a 15-7 lead. Bickett was dealing, as she fed Zimmerman, Nicolson and middle Kathryn Norris for big kills.

Kujan showed off her big arm swing in the third set and finished the match with a crushing spike.

“She’s committed to play beach volleyball at USC,” Donnelly said. “She’s a great beach player and a phenomenal athlete. We’re doing a lot of different things with her. She gives us a lot of options, and with our ball control we’re able to run some things through her.”

Linnea Skinner led Santa Barbara with 9 kills, while Chloe Mauceri had 7 and Erika Foreman 6.

Gannon said it’s a challenge to build the kind of cohesiveness Laguna Blanca has.

“There’s no substitute for reps, and when you got all those reps under your belt together as a group, that can be really beneficial. In this case, we don’t have those reps together as a group, so you try to get experience as the season goes along and hopefully by the end of the season you’re playing better volleyball.”

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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