Serena Ramirez
Laguna Blanca blockers Annie Gabler (9) and Ella Delwiche try to block Mary Star attacker Serena Ramirez. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

Mary Star came out as the aggressor against host Laguna Blanca in Saturday’s CIF-SS Division 6 second-round girls volleyball playoff match, and the Stars landed the knockout blows to eliminate the Owls in three sets at Merovick Gym.

Led by the potent-hitting trio of Serena Ramirez, Sammie Sabra and Marina Erosa, the Stars won 26-24, 25-18, 25-17.

“We knew what they were going to be like and we had a pretty good game plan, and they beat us,” Laguna coach Jason Donnelly said. “They had enough weapons to make us work and our serving and passing game wasn’t as good and clean as it’s been.”

The Mary Star trio did its damage from the outside and at the serving line. Sabra led the attack with 15 kills, Ramirez had 10 and Ersa added six.

“They’ve been strong for us for the last three years and they’ve grown every single year. And this year they’re coming out stronger than ever,”  said Mary Star co-coach Lauren Oredo of the trio.

Ramirez, a high-flying junior with a big arm swing, has received an offer to play beach volleyball at the University of Arizona.

Sabra did a nice job of mixing up her attacks to keep the Laguna defense off balance.

“This girl wants to win, not just for herself, but because she cares about the other girls,” co-coach Sean Duvich said of Sabra, who is also a junior.

Mary Star jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first set, but Laguna Blanca fought back and went up 10-9. The score was tied at 13 when the Stars went on a three-point scoring run, courtesy of a serving error, an ace serve by Mariena Rivera and an out-of-rotation call against the Owls.

Laguna got two points back before the Stars went on another run, scoring five in row. Erosa was responsible for three of the points, blocking for a side out and then serving two aces.

The lead got up to 23-17 before Laguna Blanca went on a 6-0 run to tie the score. After a pair of Mary Star hitting errors, Paige Levinson and Ashley McGovern blocked for a point and Annie Gabler served three straight aces. 

The teams traded points before Sabra scored on a deep shot for a 25-24 lead. Sierra Salas followed with a short serves that the Owls struggled to pass and the Stars took the set.

Mary Star kept the pressure on and roared to a 17-6 lead in the second set. Laguna Blanca made a late run to pull to 24-18 before middle Mariena Rivera put away the final point for the Stars.

Audrey Murphy

Audrey Murphy hits between Mary Star blockers Marlina
Rivera, left, and Marina Erosa. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

The Owls faced another uphill battle in the third set, falling behind 12-5.

Macy Christal’s hitting and serving helped rally Laguna to within one, 16-15. 

But Mary Star setter Ashley Reyes went to Ramirez and she put the ball away from the back row for a side out. Rivera followed with a kill on an overpass and another kill off a Reyes’ assist for a 19-15 lead.

Mary Star outscored Laguna 6-2 down the stretch with their trio of stars doing most of the damage: Ramirez had two kills and a solo block, Sabra ripped one off the block and Erosa scored on a tip for the match-winning point.

Christal and Audrey Murphy each had six kills and Ainsley McGovern added four to pace the Laguna Blanca attack. Sophia Webster and Gabler each served four aces and Webster and Christal both had seven digs.

The Owls, who missed the playoffs last year, finish at 15-5 and champions of the Frontier League. Mary Star, the Camino Real League champion, is 32-3.

“I’m really proud of our girls,” said Donnelly. “We fought back in game one and tied it up at 23-all; we fought back in game two, down pretty big, and made it competitive. And, honestly, I really thought we were going to win game three, and then we just kept giving up big runs. That’s something  we haven’t done a whole lot this year.

“To their credit, they made us do things that we didn’t want to do. They did what we’ve been doing to people all year long.”

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Barry Punzal, Noozhawk Sports Editor

— Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.