GVB: San Marcos put its all together to outlast DP in five sets

All the pieces are coming together for the San Marcos girls volleyball team. And what better time than during the stretch run of a tight league race for the championship.

The Royals got clutch play from several players and rallied from a 2-1 deficit to defeat Dos Pueblos in a five-set marathon at Sovine Gym on Thursday night. The scores were 24-26, 25-18, 21-25, 25-17, 15-8.

The victory puts them in sole possession of first place in the highly competitive Channel League with record of 5-2. Dos Pueblos falls to 4-3. Ventura, which was off this week, is 3-2 and Santa Barbara is 3-3.

Senior outside hitters Anika Wilson and Emily Allen led the offense for San Marcos. The Pepperdine-bound Wilson mixed up her attacks and finished with 24 kills and a .330 hitting percentage. Allen, who’s committed to UC Davis, had 14 kills with a .300 average.

Emma Harrah was a force in the middle, putting away 12 kills and hitting .480 for the match. The Royals hit .270 as a team.

Sophomore setter Gabi Peoples showed great composure in pressure-cooker conditions.

While San Marcos’ hitting was impressive, its defense was even better. Sophomore Cassidy Drury-Pullen played a huge part of the defensive effort in the fourth and fifth sets. She finished with 17 digs, tying Wilson for high honors. Chloe Allen, used as a libero while her sprained ankle heals, had 16 digs and Emily Allen added 14.

“We had some big kids step up tonight,” said San Marcos coach Erica Menzel Downing. “Our sophomore Cassidy totally stepped up defensively. She made some key digs in that fifth game and served tough.”

Drury-Pullen served out the match with an eight-point run after DP had taken an 8-7 lead.

“I just knew it was important and we couldn’t miss any more serves,” Drury-Pullen said. “I just tried to keep them steady and hit the target the coaches had given to me. We ended up winning, so it’s great.”

“That’s huge, playing against a really good team,” raved Downing of Drury-Pullen’s serving run.

Wilson said the improvement of young players like Drury-Pullen have made San Marcos a more complete team.

“She’s been playing amazing for us,” Wilson said. “She stepped up so big the last two games. That’s the reason why we’re winning these close games. We got swept by Santa Barbara early in the season and we lost to DP in five because we didn’t have all the little pieces of our team working together. All our younger players are really stepping up and they are making the difference for us.”

Boston College-bound McKenna Goss had another big night for DP, leading the squad with 21 kills. Senior Natalie Klapp added 10 kills and picked up 17 digs. Libero Sam Sander was the team leader in digs with 28 digs. Cat Hogan came off the bench to pick up 12.

“We played some really good back-row defense, our setting was better; we had some good energy,” DP coach Todd Garrett said. “To take a team with that many weapons to five… again, I’m proud of the kids.”

Garrett pointed to the hitting of Wilson and Emily Allen as keys to San Marcos’ victory.

“We couldn’t stop Anika, and in game five Emily turned it on,” he said. “You have two really good players on the pins. Anika scares me. I liked it better when they had her on the right, to be honest.”

Downing credited Wilson and Emily Allen for showing great senior leadership.

“When we had the unfortunate injury with Chloe, they knew they had to step up their game, both of them,” Downing said. “Anika was moved to the left side, and she was going to be taking a lot more swings. She is just a tremendous volleyball player, she knows the game. Emily does so much for us. She’s kind of the calming force on our team.”

Wilson tipped an overpass and then scored on a dink to help the Royals open up a 7-3 lead in the fourth set. Later, she scored three points on a 5-0 run to boost the lead to 16-8.

Downing said Wilson did a good job of mixing up her shots. “That’s how we scored on all those runs,” the coach said.

After trading the lead in the early going of the first set, Harrah and Peoples combined on a block to start a run that gave the Royals a 16-10 lead. But Dos Pueblos roared back and tied the score at 19-all. A serving error by DP put San Marcos at set point, 24-23. Goss earned a sideout and Sander made a clutch defensive play to give the Chargers the lead, 25-23. She dug a driven ball and placed into an open space on the San Marcos side. On the winning point, Danica Minnich went to floor to make a spectacular dig, and San Marcos was called for a net violation.

San Marcos regrouped in the second set, as Peoples utilized all of her hitters.

In the third set, an ace by Goss and a dig by Hogan keyed a 5-1 run to give DP a 20-15 advantage.

“We weren’t in our mojo,” said Wilson of being down 2-1 in sets. “We were making a lot of unforced errors, which we were really trying to minimize.”

San Marcos got its mojo working in the fourth set and roared to a 21-10 lead.

“We were really focused on passing the ball and taking care of the ball defensively,” Wilson said of the team’s comeback. “We kind of knew the rest would follow.”