Laguna Blanca advances to CIF 4-A volleyball title match

Hannah White of Laguna Blanca hits through the block of Mara Greenwald of Crossroads. White had 13 kills for the Owls.

Hannah White of Laguna Blanca tries to hit ?through the block of Mara Greenwald of Crossroads during the CIF 4-A Division semifinal match. White had 13 kills for the Owls.

Reaching a CIF final is not easy, even if you?re playing a semifinal match in your own gym.

The Laguna Blanca girls volleyball team learned that Tuesday night when it hosted Crossroads at Merovick Gym. The Owls dug deep and fought back from some big deficits to pull out a four-set win and advance to their first CIF title match since 2009.

Behind sophomore Phoebe Madsen?s 22 kills and senior Hannah White?s 13, Laguna Blanca turned back Crossroads, 25-16, 21-25, 25-23, 25-23, in an exciting Division 4-A semifinal match.

The Owls (17-2) will play Pacifica Christian for the championship at Cerritos College on either Friday or Saturday. Pacifica Christian spoiled the chance for an all Condor League final by beating Cate in five sets in Santa Monica.

Laguna Blanca last won a CIF title in 2006.

For the Laguna Blanca seniors, reaching the final is a dream realized. They were denied that chance last season, falling in the semifinals in five sets.

Phoebe Madsen of Laguna Blanca passes the ball to her sister Clara Madsen

Phoebe Madsen of Laguna Blanca passes the ball to her sister Clara Madsen

“It?s literally amazing; it?s like a tingly feeling,? senior Grace Woolf said. ?I?m so happy for this team; we?re all so close and we love each other, and I?m so excited to be going to the final.?

Woolf put away a two balls during a six-point serving run by Phoebe Madsen. Her second kill tied the score at 23-23. She finished with 10 kills.

White then made a huge play. She read a tip by Crossroads hitter Olivia Leventhal, backed off the net and easily dug the ball. She got the set and hit down the line to put the Owls ahead 24-23.

Crossroads had trouble with another tough Phoebe Madsen serve and hit the ball long to end the match. The Laguna Blanca students poured out of the stands and mobbed the volleyball team for a joyous celebration.

“It feels really, really good,” said White. “I’ve been on the team since I was a freshman and this has been my goal the whole time. Last year, we were so close and we didn?t quite make it.
It?s just so nice to know we have a chane to win it all (this time) because last year we wish we did. It feels so good.”

Laguna Blanca broke open a close first set after Clara Madsen scored on a bumped ball to the deep corner of the court for a 12-8 lead. Olivia Pickett followed with an ace serve and a Crossroads mishandled ball after block by White to make it 14-8.

Crossroads found its groove in the second set. A tip by Mara Greenwald broke a 12-12 tie and the Roadrunners scored the next two points on Laguna Blanca errors before Clara Madsen fed Luisa Cameron for an Owls sideout.

A back-row kill by Phoebe Madsen sparked a Laguna Blanca rally that cut the deficit to 20-19. But Crossroads hung on to even the match at one set apiece.

In the third set, the Owls roared back from being down 12-4 and caught Crossroads at 16-16 on a kill by Woolf.

Clara Madsen sets up one of her hitters.

Clara Madsen sets up one of her hitters.

“We’re really good when our backs are against the wall,” Woolf said. “We keep fighting; we come together and keep the energy up.”

The score went back and forth until Laguna Blanca scored consecutive points on a violation against Crossroads and a kill by White from the back row to take a 20-18 lead. A kill by Cameron gave the Owls a 24-22 advantage before Harper Graves earned a sideout for Crossroads to make it 24-23. White notched the set-winning point when the Roadrunners couldn’t return her spike.

Crossroads staged a comeback from an 11-6 deficit in the fourth set and were two sideouts away (23-19) from forcing a fifth set. The Roadrunners hit the ball long after making a dig to give Laguna Blanca a sideout. The Owls’ rotation put Phoebe Madsen at the service line and her tough serves helped finish off the visitors.

“That’s kind of how this team plays,” Laguna Blanca coach Jim Alzina said of the comebacks. “We’ve come back from 6-1 down in six games this year. “This team causes me headaches, but they’re awesome. They always seem to pull it off at the end.”