Cate conquers Summit, reaches CIF Finals for first time in 22 years

Cate coach Greg Novak cautioned his girls volleyball team it might be taken to four or five sets in Tuesday’s CIF Division 4A semifinal match against Summit of Fontana.

The Rams listened and then made sure that didn’t happen. They dominated from the opening serve and blew out the visiting Skyhawks in three straight to reach the CIF Finals for the first time since 1992. The set scores were 25-10, 25-8, 25-10.

Top-seeded Cate (22-1) will play No. 2 Duarte for the championship on Saturday at either Fullerton College or Cerritos College. Duarte defeated Desert in five sets in the other semifinal.

The championship match is set for Friday at 5 p.m. at Cerritos College in Norwalk.

Novak said he told his team after practice Monday “to expect to lose a game and mentally prepare yourself to be down 0-1 or 0-2 and calming down and winning. That’s what we were prepared for. “We talked about going five because that’s what we did last year. We were mentally ready and physically ready, oh man.”

Summit, the Sunkist League champion, came in with a tall lineup, including a 6-2 middle. But the Skyhawks struggled all night to get in system because of Cate’s tough serving. If the Rams weren’t scoring on aces, they were piling up points on free-ball plays set up by poor serve reception.

“Obviously, a really important part of the match,” outside hitter Peyton Shelburne said of the serving.”We’ve been really working on consistent, strong serving.”

“Out of 75 serves, we only want to miss three or four, and that’s what we’ve been doing,” Novak said. “Since the beginning of the season we’ve been calling targets and it made a big difference because our focus on hitting that target for the team has really paid off. And if we miss, it has to miss long and not in the net.”

The free balls made setter Hannah Barr’s job pretty easy. She fed outside hitters Shelburne, Maddie Becker and Delaney Mayfield with sweet sets and they blasted away. Xadrine Griffin also got into the act in the middle. The Rams hit a sizzling .412 as a team. Shelburne led the balanced attack with 16 kills, Becker put down 12, Mayfield added 11.

“Hannah is doing a great job,” Shelburne said. “She’s made so much improvement throughout the entire season. Her setting was great tonight, super consistent, right where we wanted to it.”

“Overall, this was our best performance as far as being error free,” Novak said. “In the first game, I think we made only two errors. We just wanted to stay away from that big middle. We occasionally set the middle to give us respect.”

The Rams smartly hit down the line on several sets, avoiding 6-2 Jordan Wilson.

“They happened to have a really big block and that just happened to be the spot that was open,” said Becker.

Wilson was Summit’s most effective attacker, but the Skyhawks struggled set her up because they were scrambling most of the night to get the ball over the net after a poor serve reception.

Ahead 6-5, Shelburne went on a 10-point serving run to break open the first set. Mayfield capped the run by smashing an overpass.

Becker said getting the early advantage was big boost to the team. “With all our fans behind our back, it felt really good to get that lead at the beginning.”

The romp continued in the second set. Shelburne scored on three consecutive plays to start the set. A block by Wilson and a nice defensive play pulled Summit to within one at 7-6 before Cate went on 6-0 run. Becker ripped two balls down the line during the run. A Griffin kill on a slide, a Becker kill from the back row and a block by Griffin increased the lead to 20-8. The Rams finished the match with a 10-0 run.

It was more of the same in the third set. Cate led 9-8 and outscored Summit 16-2 the rest of the way. Mayfield scored the final point by crushing and overpass.

Becker said the experience from last year’s semifinal loss helped motivate the team on Tuesday.

“That match was really tough,” she recalled. “That match helped us and pushed us to know we could do it.”