Still riding the momentum of their first-round win at Hart, the San Marcos girls volleyball team continued playing well and took the first two sets against Oaks Christian in the second round of CIF-SS Division 3 playoffs.
The third-seeded Lions, however, rediscovered their ball control and fought off the upset-minded Royals in five sets, 19-25, 20-25, 25-14, 25-19, 15-11, on Saturday at the Thunderhut.
San Marcos came out firing and roared out to a 10-3 lead in the first set. Elena Thomas and Kaylin Cooney ripped kills on the outside and scored on blocks, Eloise McGibben pounded balls from the middle, and the Royals served tough to take Oaks Christian out of system.
They followed the same pattern in the second set. Oaks Christian got as close as 22-20, but San Marcos scored the next three points to win the set and go up 2-0.
“That was actually really cool to come in,” co-coach Dwayne Hauschild said of the team’s great start against the 25-3 Lions. “We were a little worried, frankly, because it’s homecoming tonight. We were a little worried our kids might not be that focused, but we played really well.”
Oaks Christian coach Julie Bennett said playoff road jitters and struggles with San Marcos’ tough serving contributed to their slow start.
“We couldn’t shake them until the third set, really,” Bennett said. “We started playing our game with a faster tempo, aggressive, just not waiting for them to make mistakes. It was more about how we can earn every point that we can.”
The match started to swing Oak Christian’s way after an ace by Maggie Rhew and a kill from 6-foot-2 lefty Brooklyn Stearns pulled the Lions to 6-5 in the third set.
Riley Green sided out for San Marcos before the Lions went on a 7-0 run to take the lead for good. Sophia Van Ness served two aces in the run and Emma Robinson scored on a pair kills off the Royals’ block.
“That’s our game,” Bennett said. “We’re normally fast, but they had us out of system so much.”
With vocal fan support behind it, Oaks Christian dominated the fourth set, roaring out to a 12-3 by capitalizing on San Marcos mistakes and getting strong hitting from Nicole Zake on the outside and 6-foot-3 Manaia Ogbechi in the middle.
San Marcos regained its earlier form and pulled to within one, 20-19, on a kill by McGibben after some great pick-ups by Josie Gamberdella and Green.
The Royals had a swing to tie the score but were denied by a Stearns block. The Lions then scored the next four points to even the match at 2-2.
Oaks Christian setter Rhew went to Ogbechie in the middle to start the fifth set and she put away three balls to give the Lions a 4-1 lead.
Kills by Green and Thomas brought San Marcos within two at 12-10 before Zake and Stearns put balls away to complete Oaks Christian’s comeback victory.
“Hey, never too late,” said Bennett of the comeback.
Zake led the Lions with16 kills, Ogbechie had 11 kills and Emma Robinson added 10. Rhew compiled 50 assists.
San Marcos was led by seniors Green and McGibben with 16 kills apiece, while senior Cooney and sophomore Thomas each had nine kills. Thomas added 12 digs and Cooney had four blocks. Senior libero Lily Blankenhorn was the dig leader with 19 and Gamberdella, a sophomore, dished out 55 assists.
Hauschild was pleased to see the Royals play well in the postseason. They beat Hart on the road in the first round after twice losing to the Indians during the regular season
“At Hart, we played so well and seemed to clean things up. And then to come out here and play those first two games so well, I was like, ‘This is a team we’ve seen in spurts, but it’s at the right time, so it’s really cool,’’’ Hauschild said.
“Unfortunately, they got a little better,” he said of Oaks Christian. “We got maybe a little timid in games three and four, and then in game five I thought we were fine. But a couple of bad blocks and you’re like, ‘Oh, man, we’re playing from behind.’ We just had a couple of soft-handed blocks, and they’re great hitters, so it’ll come back to bite you.”
He added that a big difference in the match was Oak Christian’s improvement in serve receive.
“We were attacking them pretty well in the first two games and they couldn’t get a reasonable pass to run their middle,” Hauschild said. “When they can run their middle, things get really quick, and that was 100 percent true.”
San Marcos finishes the season at 19-10.