Santa Barbara High libero Tessa de Albergaria (7) and outside hitter Emmy Werner (1) celebrate with her teammates after beating rival San Marcos inn five sets. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

Even when one team has a commanding lead and all the momentum, you can never count the opponent out in a crosstown high school volleyball match in Santa Barbara.

That was the scenario in Thursday’s San Marcos at Santa Barbara High girls volleyball clash. The host Dons appeared to be on their way to a sweep as they rolled through the first two sets. But San Marcos caught fire in the third and carried the momentum to another win in the fourth.

Santa Barbara regrouped. The Dons got tough serving from Nicole Schuetz and Tessa de Albergaria and pulled away in the fifth set to take the wild Channel League match, 25-13, 25-15, 17-25, 21-25, 15-7, at J.R. Richards Gym.

The Dons improved to 3-0 in league while San Marcos fell to 1-2, with both losses coming in rivalry matches.

In this one, the young Royals flipped a switch and grew up. They became a well-organized team with an abundance of firepower on the floor.

Lola Heckman (2) and Whitney Meister of Santa Barbara joust with San Marcos setter Josie Gamberdella. (Barry Punzal / Noozhawk photo)

“I agree,” said co-coach Dwayne Hauschild. “That’s what we were talking about. When 80 percent of your team is so fresh and never played a varsity match in here, not knowing what to do, it showed, man. They were a little messy in those first two games  and Santa Barbara had the swagger. They were definitely playing well and are a fantastic team.

“I’m so happy because there is so much to this team we haven’t seen yet in action, and then to see that third game, where maybe Santa Barbara leaned back a little bit. But our team surely leaned in; we went right back at them in game four and pushed them to five and that was great.”

On the Santa Barbara side, libero Tessa de Albergaria knew a 2-0 lead in sets wasn’t safe against the Royals.

“It’s never over. When we think it’s over, it’s never over,” she said of playing their crosstown rivals. “SM has a really strong team, they’re always going to find their way back. But I’m really proud we had it in us to kind of prove who wanted it more at the end.”

De Albergaria’s tough serving allowed the Dons to close out the fifth set with four straight points after a side out. Her first serve resulted in an overpass that Schuetz buried for a 12-7 lead. Whitney Meister scored the 13th point off another overpass and de Albergaria served an ace to make it match point.

On the final point, San Marcos passed de Albergaria’s serve tight to the net and the Royals tried a quick-set play that was stuffed by Schuetz.

“It never disappoints. These games are always exciting and high energy,” said Santa Barbara coach Kristin Hempy. “I have to give it to San Marcos, they really turned it around between the second and third sets. They picked up their offense, picked up their defense and really gave us a real well-fought battle. It was a fun match overall.”

The Dons were having all the fun in the first two sets. They passed well, allowing setters Gwen Chenoweth and Stella Borgioli to feed outside hitters Emmy Werner Keenan Engebretson, Augustine Wooten, Meister and, at times, Schuetz for points. Freshman Lola Heckman also got into the act with strong play in the middle.

The teams went back and forth early in the third set before San Marcos went on a four-point run to take a 9-6 lead. Kaylin Cooney had a kill and a solo block to spark the run.

She later served three straight aces — one of them a taped-ace — to stretch the Royals’ lead to 18-9, and finished the set with a kill.

Cooney put away 16 kills to lead the Royals, Reese Paskin and Grace Stone each had 10 kills and setter Josie Gamberdella put away seven on seven attempts. Libero Katie Kracke was the dig leader with 20, Charlotte Hastings picked up 11 and Alina Stapf and Cooney each had 10.

Werner and Schuetz shared the lead in kills for Santa Barbara with 12 apiece, while Wooten had nine and Meister six.

Schuetz also had a team-high five aces and joined Engebretsen as the co-leaders in blocks with five. De Albergaria collected 14 digs and Chenoweth picked up 10.

Chenoweth and Borgioli each dished out 21 assists.

Reese Paskin of San Marcos hits against the Santa Barbara block of Whitney Meister (8) and Nicole Schuetz. Paskin had 10 kills and Schuetz recorded five blocks. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

Cooney broke a 9-9 tie in the fourth set, and San Marcos never trailed again. After a big kill from the lefty Paskin made it 24-17, Santa Barbara went on a late run with four straight points.

But Paskin finished the job for the Royals, sneaking a hit through the Dons’ block to send the match to a deciding fifth set.

“I knew they weren’t going to roll over,” said Hempy of the Royals’ comeback. “I know Dwyane and Tina (Brown) and they’re very experienced coaches. And SM always has fire, they don’t want to lose.

“I told my girls, ‘Watch out, we can’t rest on our laurels here.’ And sure enough they showed up.”

At 4-4, Engebretsen scored from the right set to give Santa Barbara a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. Werner tooled the San Marcos block on the next play, Schuetz served an ace and Werner tipped into the back court for an 8-4 advantage.

San Marcos got as close as 10-7.

Hempy took the Dons into the team room after the fourth-set loss to calm the them before the fifth set.

“I knew whoever was going to come out at the beginning of that fifth set was going to take the momentum, so I told them, ‘We got to dig deep and we got to come out strong,’’’ said Hempy. “Our serve-receive was struggling a little big in the third and fourth sets, so I told them to just focus on the first pass, we’ll get our offense in rhythm, and we got to make sure our energy is high.

“They came out and they did that, and we were able to keep the momentum.”

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