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Girls Volleyball

Santa Barbara Gets It Done in CIF Wild-Card Volleyball Match

Solid ball control, defense spark Dons to sweep of La Reina

Georgia Brace Click to view larger
Georgia Brace of Santa Barbara wins a joust with La Reina’s Lexi Knipprath during the Dons’ three-set win in a CIF Division 4 wild-card playoff match. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara High showed just how far its come in girls volleyball this season during the first set of Tuesday’s CIF-Southern Section Division 4 wild-card match against visiting La Reina.

The Dons roared back from a 20-12 deficit, outscoring the visiting Regents 13-2 to win the set. That confidence-boosting victory propelled them to a 25-22, 25-20, 25-22 sweep and a berth in Thursday’s main draw at Moorpark.

"At the beginning of the year, we wrote up on the whiteboard a bunch of goals we had for the season and our top goal was make it into playoffs," senior setter Ellie Chenoweth said. "We’re really proud of ourselves for pushing and meeting our goal and to move on in CIF."

Santa Barbara (12-15) did it with terrific ball control, scrambling defense and tough serving that threw La Reina (6-10) out of system.

Sophomore Hayden Randolph was the key to the Dons' passing and defense.

"The passing was great," Chenoweth said. "It really helped us stay in system and run some really good plays. I was really proud of (Hayden), she did a really good job."

Coach Ariana Garner was excited to see her 5-foot-3 libero making big plays.

"She’s a tremendous athlete," Garner said. "She gets balls lower to the floor than anybody I’ve ever seen. She’s a stud back there. This is actually her first year of indoor volleyball, and she’s really smart and she’s caught on quick. She is so low to the ground she can throw her body out there and can can literally get balls inches from the ground."

Said Randolph: "I'm the smallest. We had to win this game to move on. I did what I had to do."

Middle Georgia Brace led an impressive performance from the service line, reeling off four aces. Chenoweth followed with three aces. The attack was balanced. Avalon Gagnon led the way with eight kills, Annabel Caesar had seven and Talia Medel and Brace each added five. Chenoweth had two blocks.

Put it all together and the Dons achieved a team goal of advancing in the CIF playoffs.

That goal didn’t seem possible a month ago. They often struggled with their ball control against the better teams.

"We’ve been harping since Day 1 on ball control," Garner said. "If our serve receive and our defense can be successful then our offense will fall into place. During the middle of the season, we kind of had a letdown in our defense and serve receive. In these last two weeks, we really, really honed in, mostly focusing on that first ball contact. That’s what we did tonight.

Dons block Click to view larger
Emma Zuffaleto, left, and Ellie Chenoweth combine on a block for Santa Barbara. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

"We also executed on free balls," she added. "That also was our Achilles heel. In the middle of the season, we couldn’t execute on free balls and we couldn’t run plays and tonight we did. We took care of the ball and put the ball away in free-ball sitiuations. Our first-ball contact was dynamite tonight."

Santa Barbara played with confidence throughout the match. It used tough serving and defense to rally from the big deficit in the first set.

Chenoweth started a three-point run with an ace. Gagnon followed with a kill and Caesar scored on an off-speed shot to bring the score to 21-17.

Brace sided out to make it 21-18 and the Dons went on to score seven straight points behind the serving of Caesar. She fired an ace for a 23-22 lead and, on set point, she had La Reina scrambling to get the ball over. The Regents were whistled for four hits on the winning point.

Santa Barbara fell behind early in the second set but fought back behind the defense and passing Randolph and more tough serving. 

After Miranda Duffy ripped a kill to give La Reina an 18-17 led, the Dons answered with a three-point run. Two points were a result of errors by the Regents and the third came off a Caesar kill.

Caesar delivered again, pushing a tight set off the block for a point and a 23-20 lead. Chenoweth finished the set with two tough-to-handle float serves. The last one dropped on the back line for the winning point.

Santa Barbara led for most of the third set, but there were some nervous moments down the stretch. 

La Reina went on a three-point run to cut Santa Barbara’s lead to one, 21-20. 

Garner called a timeout and the Regents committed a serving error when play resumed. 

A kill down the line by Jade Leste of La Reina made it 22-21.

The Dons were prepared for crunch time.

"Yesterday in practice we did drills for the last 30 minutes and we played from 21-20, our A side against our B side," Garner said. "We practiced on closing out the match. I think it paid off today."

Santa Barbara kept its composure and got back-to-back kills from Brace for a 24-21 lead.

La Reina sided out, but the Dons finished off the match when Chenoweth fed Medel on the outside and she put the ball away to complete the sweep.

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