Jimi Hendrix played there in February of 1968.
Forty years later, ol’ Robertson Gym proved it can still get electric.
Santa Barbara High’s second-ranked girls volleyball team swept top-seeded Dos Pueblos 25-22, 25-22, 25-19 Saturday in front of a capacity crowd of about 3,000 to win the CIF Division I-A title. It was the first time two local girls teams have played each other for the crown.
“This is the happiest moment of my life. I’m just so full of emotion right now,” said Santa Barbara senior Hadley Simmons.
That was easy to see, as players from both teams were sobbing after the final point — albeit for different reasons.
“We didn’t come out at our best. It’s just a bummer,” said DP co-captain Caitlin Racich, who signed her letter of intent to play for Pepperdine earlier this week. “We didn’t bring our ‘A’ game, but we had a great season. We’d never made it to the finals, so it was really good for us. Maybe we’ll play them in the state finals… Who knows?”
The icing on Santa Barbara’s already delicious cake was that the Dons avoided strike three against DP — the Chargers (27-6) had beaten Santa Barbara (26-7) in four games in their first Channel League meeting and in five sets on the next.
So what changed the third time around?
“I think we got kind of hot with our defense, and Mimi Cuttrell played exceptionally well. We were going on all cylinders,” said coach John Gannon. “It’s one of those special things that happens. I don’t know how we did it. I’ve gotta go back and look at films or something.”
Cuttrell had 12 kills in the match, including some big swings from way off the net. She opened up the third game with two straight put-aways to give the Dons an early boost, and would add two more plus an ace and a block the rest of the way.
“The past couple weeks I haven’t been playing my best, so I just really wanted to come out and show what I can do. I just really wanted it,” said Cuttrell.
She teamed with junior middle blocker Madison Hamilton on a roof block to put the Dons up 13-9 in the first set and force a DP timeout. The pair would do it again a few points later to make it 16-10, and Hamilton collected her third block of the young game two points later. As she came down, however, Hamilton fell to the floor in pain, re-aggravating a knee injury she had earlier in the year.
In stepped senior reserve Jessica Ullmeyer, who was solid the rest of the way.
“It’s just so great to have a kid come off the bench who didn’t get that much playing time during the season and have her do her best and contribute to the team,” said Gannon. “It was special to see her get in there, and it’s a memory she’ll always have.”
DP started a mini-comeback at 19-11 when Sally Yingst notched a kill in the middle and Racich followed up with another to put the tally at 19-13. Laura Penner notched a block to make it 21-16, and Sam Wopat followed up by winning a joust and crushing a ball down the line. Penner got up for another solo block on the next point, and Wopat crushed another down the line.
All of a sudden it was 21-20, but 6-foot-1 Santa Barbara sophomore Eve Ettinger put away three kills down the stretch to seal the game. She would finish with nine kills, as did fellow outside-hitter Emily Rottman.
The Chargers were not in panic mode, however, as they had dropped the first game to the Dons in their previous two victories on the season.
“I had no doubt in my mind that this team could come back from whatever hole that they were in… Tonight was probably the first time all season where we just couldn’t find the rhythm,” said DP coach Dwayne Hauschild.
Ullmeyer blasted down an overpass from the Chargers to force a DP timeout at 9-4 in the second set, and Cuttrell would nab a kill, a solo block and an ace over the next four points to put the Dons up 12-5. Santa Barbara kept a nice cushion on the lead until DP began another late-game rally that fell just short. Carly Wopat nabbed one of her 11 kills to pull the Chargers within two at 24-22, but Simmons put down a tip to finish the set.
Ettinger hit a bullet to the back line early in the third that the line judge called in. Dos Pueblos assistant Tina Brown took exception to the call, and a quick slip of the tongue earned her a red card and an exit from the gym.
“We got burned on more than a couple calls,” said Hauschild. “I’m not blaming the refs by any means, because Santa Barbara outplayed us. But the frustration built up, she said something and he didn’t like it. It went straight to the red, and so be it.
“I was hoping it would be a positive to try and get our girls a little feisty.”
Instead, it seemed to make the Dons more feisty. Gannon had been concerned during the preseason that experience might be an issue for the Dons, but the team got all the leadership it needed from setter Natalie Guerra.
“Natalie Guerra did a great job. She had the experience,” said Gannon. “You could see her during that delay in the third game, and she wanted to get after it and play hard. The experience of Natalie was something that we relied on, and Hadley too.”
The Dons would take the lead at 7-6 and never relinquish it. They were jumping around the court like rabbits on Red Bull in between rallies during the final five points, and when DP was called for reaching over the net at match point, the Dons stormed the court.
It was a wonderful moment for the Dons, and a wonderful event for the entire athletic community.
“We just played our game,” said Simmons. “We didn’t do anything special, we just played our game.”
Actually, this game was something special before it was played.
(See the PresidioSports.com YouTube Channel for video of match point with commentary by Jon Lee and David Rottman!)
(Photos by Blake Dorfman/PresidioPics)