San Marcos girls volleyball coach Erica Downing kept her speech simple after her team blew a late lead and lost the third set against Santa Barbara in their first-place showdown on Thursday. She told her team to forget about the last game and play one point at a time.
It was a clichéd speech, but the Royals got the message.
The Royals regrouped, won the next two sets at an oven-like Thunderhut and defeated the Dons for the first time in several years to move within one win of a Channel League title. The set scores were 19-25, 25-14, 25-27, 25-22, 15-9.
“They’re really good at putting that all behind them,” said Downing of how her players responded after the blown lead in the third set. “They stayed composed, and for a young team like this it’s great.”
The result puts San Marcos into a first-place tie with Dos Pueblos at 5-2. The Royals, who finish the regular season at Buena, swept both matches against DP and hold the tiebreaker advantage. Santa Barbara is 4-3 with one match remaining against the Chargers.
Despite the loss, the Dons clinched a playoff berth by virtue of Dos Pueblos beating Ventura in five sets on Thursday.
San Marcos was on the verge of taking a 2-1 advantage in sets as it held a 24-21 lead. But Santa Barbara fought back. Middle Caroline Anderson blocked a ball to spark a four-point run and give the Dons a 25-24 lead. A Kristen Berlo kill tied the score for the Royals before Santa Barbara scored the next two points on a block and a double-contact call to steal the set.
Downing made sure her team didn’t get down on itself following the tough loss.
“Basically, we picked our energy up,” libero Anika Wilson said. “Our coach talked about focusing on each point, like one point at a time. That really helped us, to not worry about the whole game, just one point.”
The Royals came out strong to start the fourth set, running off six straight points. Berlo and Emily Allen combined on a block to get the run started and Berlo followed with a solo block and a blast off Santa Barbara blockers.
The Dons, however, kept scrapping. Emma Mascari went on a serving run and Anderson put down and overpass to rally Santa Barbara and narrow the score to 8-7.
A kill by Anastasia Kunz and a violation called against the Dons enabled San Marcos to build its lead back to four at 14-10. Berlo crushed a quick set in the middle to increase the lead to 21-17.
Berlo and Katie Kim made sure there wouldn’t be a repeat of the third set collapse. Both players recorded side-out kills and Kim had a solo stuff block to put their team up 24-20. The Royals scored the winning point on a long spike by Santa Barbara.
“We worked as a team and pulled together,” said setter Andie O’Donnell, who dished out 50 assists.
The fifth set was all San Marcos. Carly Yarnell’s tough serving got the Royals off to a 4-0 lead. Santa Barbara scored the next three points, but that was as close it would come to the Royals. Berlo crushed an O’Donnell set for a 7-3 lead and later Kim had a kill to make it 11-6.
Yarnell put the ball away for the match-winning point.
Santa Barbara coach John Gannon said falling behind early in the sets they lost made it tough against a physical team like San Marcos.
“I told our girls we really needed to establish ourselves early in sets and put the pressure on them,” he said. “At the beginning of the first set, we did really well and at the end of the third set we did really well; we did some good things.
“When we got down we’re just not offensive enough and not strong enough to put balls away consistently,” he added. “We’re not as physical as they are. You can see it player for player. You match them up and they have a little more size and physicality than we do. Some of the girls (on my team) I really liked how they pushed, how they fought and how they played. But we just can’t get down.”
Sydney Riegert led the Santa Barbara attack with 11 kills, while Anderson and Lewis had seven apiece, and Anderson added four blocks. Dana Miller picked up 20 digs and Tessa Dewell had 19 and Alexis Rottman 13.
Berlo’s 21 kills paced the San Marcos attack. Emily Allen added 12 kills, Kim had eight, Yarnell contributed seven and Chloe Allen bombed six kills.
Wilson was credited with 46 digs, Emily Allen had 45 and Jordan Corry picked up 31.
San Marcos was a little tight to start the match and Santa Barbara took advantage. Frankie Lewis was on fire on the outside and middles Anderson and Jessyca Beska contained Berlo.
The Royals found their rhythm in the second set. Tough serving by Wilson opened up a 6-1 lead and outside attackers Kim, Chloe Allen and Emily Allen started to assert themselves and score points.
Downing contributed the slow start to all the activities that surrounded the game — San Marcos honored its seniors and it was breast cancer awareness night.
“I think the senior thing, the pink night … we had our minds in other places,” she said. “Once they got into the game it was great. They had more energy, they were taking care of the ball. We didn’t pass very well in the first game and that put us off a little bit. We kind of panicked. Once we started passing better and focused on our technique, we were able to get back to our game.”