The crosstown matches have been difficult for the San Marcos girls volleyball team the last few years — the Royals struggling to pass and make plays, and usually getting swept.
Well, San Marcos made a declaration to its rivals Tuesday night: You don’t have the Royals to kick around any more.
San Marcos showed great ball control, maturity, composure and grit to go along with a potent attack in sweeping Dos Pueblos, 25-20, 25-23, 25-15, in its Channel League opener before a near full-house at the Thunderhut.
It was the first win over Dos Pueblos for fourth-year San Marcos coach Erica Downing. And, making it extra special, her high school and college coaches — retired San Marcos coach Jon Lee and UCSB’s Kathy Gregory — and several members of the local volleyball community were there to see it.
“It’s huge,” Downing said of winning a crosstown battle. “For our program, it’s huge. To beat them in three like that, it’s a big deal. The girls have worked so hard and they finally got the monkey off their back. The sky’s the limit for us in league. It’s great.”
The Royals got a big match from UCSB commit Kristen Berlo in the middle. She was unstoppable, putting away 15 kills with only one error and hittting a sparkling .700. Katie Kim and Emily Allen were forces on the outside with eight kills apiece. Kim hit .410 with just one error and Allen had a .300 average with two errors.
But it’s not all about hitting with this San Marcos team. The Royals can play defense, too. They dug 82 Dos Pueblos attacks, with Anika Wilson leading the way with 21 digs and Allen adding 20 and Anastasia Kunz picking up 15.
Setter Andi O’Donnell got plenty of good passes to dish out 36 assists.
San Marcos improved to 5-0 on the season.
Marina Boulanger put away 11 kills, McKenna Goss had six and Teah Burdick five to lead Dos Pueblos (3-6, 1-1). Setter Maddie Leiphardt had 27 assists.
Leiphardt took San Marcos out of rhythm in the second set with her short serve and Boulanger and Burdick delivered kills to spark a 5-0 run and put the Chargers ahead 22-19.
But San Marcos showed grit and battled back. Kunz started the comeback with a kill for a side out. DP got a point back on a Boulanger spike off the block. Then Berlo then took charge, posting a kill and blocking a middle attack to cut the deficit to 23-22. The Chargers hit their next attack out of bounds and Berlo followed with a kill on a step-out play to make it 24-23. The Royals won the set when DP hit a ball wide.
“We didn’t let the score freak us out,” Downing said. “We chipped away and we did the right things at the right time.”
Berlo said it was “hope, strength and teamwork” that made the difference. “Especially teamwork because we all pull each other out. That’s the big thing about this team this year.”
For DP coach Todd Garrett, the second set showed his team still has some work to do.
“We need to keep working on closing,” Garrett said. We’ve been in a lot of tight matches, some we close and some we haven’t. When we got that lead, we got to finish and play all the way through to the last point.”
The charged-up Royals kept the pressure on in the third set and roared to 14-5 advantage. Allen crushed a ball for the 14th point. She also scored on sharp-angle spike and a service ace in the set.
The first set was close until San Marcos went on a 10-1 run to erase a 10-7 deficit.
“San Marcos, they played great tonight,” said Garrett. “Berlo was unstoppable, it’s great to see the Allen girls out there. They earned it tonight.”
Downing said the players were looking forward to the match and she was grateful for the support they received from the student body.
“It’s great to have the school spirit. That was a big, big thing for us,” she said. “The girls have been talking about this match all week. They had a big pep rally today and we got a crowd, and we did a great job. They’ve never been able to play in front of a big crowd like this and we weren’t sure how they might respond. It was great. How could you not be excited.”