CYPRESS — That was easy.
The top-ranked Dos Pueblos girls volleyball team sure picked a good time to play one of its best matches of the year, demolishing No. 6 Huntington Beach 25-10, 25-12, 25-18 Saturday at Cypress College to earn the CIF Division I-A crown.
The Chargers were on the court celebrating less than an hour after Carly Wopat opened the match by crushing a set on the left side. Wopat, headed to Stanford next year along with twin sister Sam, had her way with six-foot-6 middle blocker Haleigh Hampton and the rest of the Oilers, putting away 11 kills on 13 attempts with five stuff blocks and three aces.
On Wednesday, the Chargers sat at the University Club and listened to Karch Kiraly speak at the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table’s Fall Classic. Kiraly explained how teams need to stay positive, because it’s uncommon for every player to be “in the zone” at the same time.
When he asked the crowd for a guess, DP senior Sally Yingst raised her hand and estimated that a team can expect to be “in the zone” about 50-percent of the time, but Kiraly hinted that her guess was a little too high… Thirty-percent was more like it.
Sorry, Karch, the Chargers proved you wrong. They found the zone and stayed in it for nearly the entire match.
“We came out in game one absolutely on fire with our serving and passing. I wasn’t sure about how they would react to the hugeness of this game, but they didn’t look nervous at all,” said head coach Todd Garrett.
It started with an 11-1 run that included two kills from Carly Wopat, two from Taylor Racich and two aces from Yingst. Sam Wopat added a solo block during the stretch. Kelcey Chaffin and Racich joined forces for an authoritative stuff to make it 15-4, and Carly Wopat’s sidewinding, cross-court ace on the next point forced Huntington Beach to use its second timeout less than 10 minutes after the match started.
Even on the rare instance of a less-than perfect pass, the Chargers (30-2) were able to make a play. Paige Craine did it by dishing out a perfect bump set over her head to Sammie Brown on the right side for a kill that made it 21-9. The Notre Dame-bound Brown, also a setter for DP, and Carly Wopat had a telepathic-like connection throughout the match, leading to some highlight-reel plays. A beautiful quick-set in the middle was detonated straight down by Wopat to force game point at 24-12, and Wopat followed with an ace to seal the set.
“In practice we’ve been connecting really well, and yeah, it just felt so good to go up and crush those perfect sets. I love it when I get such good sets from my setter,” said Wopat.
The tandem ended a long rally by combining on another quick set in the middle to put the Chargers up 2-0 in the second game. DP ended up scoring the first six points and building a 16-4 lead after back-to-back errors from the Oilers.
“I don’t know if we were nervous tonight or what, but they came out and served us off the court,” said Huntington Beach coach Craig Pazanti. “That’s been the case for us all year. When we pass the ball we’re pretty good, but tonight we didn’t pass very well… I give them a ton of credit. They’ve been one of the best teams in the nation all year long.”
Megan Smith stepped back and tallied two aces as part of a six-point run down the stretch in the set. Carly Wopat, meanwhile, loaded the springs under her feet and nearly got her whole head over the net for a solo block that made it 23-9. Brown put away a swing down the line on the right side to end the game.
Brown made a perfect one-handed set to Wopat to make it 3-2 in the third. Craine put away an untouched ace to put the Chargers up 8-5, and the senior kept the team fired up by screaming and bouncing around after every point until her face was tomato red. The Oilers hung around and had the score tied at 9-9 after a Hampton block, but she was called for reaching over the net on the next point to give the lead back to DP. Sam Wopat then put down two straight pipe sets — the second aided by a stellar dig from Craine —and the Chargers never looked back.
The match ended on a block by Racich and Carly Wopat.
Although it was a different opponent, the victory may have helped erase the Chargers’ memory of being upset by Santa Barbara in last year’s title match held at Rob Gym.
“It’s definitely a little bit of redemption, and going into this match we sort of had the mentality that nothing was going to stop us this time,” said Brown. “We came out strong in every game. This was a really, really fun match to play in.”
Garrett said that last year was something that got little attention, at least vocally.
“Even though it was kind of a silent motivation, no one really brought it up very much at all. Sometimes, but not much. We’ve been really good at staying focused on the next match,” said Garrett, who also gave credit to assistant coaches Greg Novak and Will McCracken as well as his predecessor, Dwayne Hauschild.
Speaking of the next match, the State Championships begin on Tuesday. In previous years, a state title has generally been a mere afterthought to a Southern Section crown, but it’s definitely been on the Chargers’ radar. Actually, it’s been on the whiteboard that Garrett and the team created at the beginning of the season, which lists the team’s goals.
The Chargers have already beaten most of the major programs that they could face in the bracket. San Jose’s Archbishop Mitty, the only team to beat DP this year (they did it twice), is in a different division. The venue of Tuesday’s match will be released on Sunday, and it is likely that the Chargers will be at home.
“Obviously it’s been in the back of our minds, but this was the first big step to focus on. Now I guess our focus is on state,” said Brown.
They haven’t lost a set thus far in the postseason, and if they play like they did on Saturday, they’ll be hard for anyone to beat.
(All photos courtesy of Randy Vasquez)