GVB: Royals lose match, sole possession of Channel League title

San Marcos needed more punch in its attack, so Chloe Allen took off the white libero jersey and put on a red shirt in the fifth set of Tuesday’s Channel League girls volleyball championship match against Ventura.

Allen scored three consecutive points to tie the score at 9-9. A Ventura hitting error gave them a 10-9 lead. But the Cougars regrouped and outscored San Marcos 6-3 down the stretch to win the match and create a three-way tie for first place.

Ventura, behind outstanding defensive play and some big-time performances, rallied from a 2-0 deficit in sets and upended San Marcos, 14-25, 23-25, 25-18, 25-13, 15-13, to earn a share of the title with the Royals and Santa Barbara at 5-3. It’s the first league title for the Cougars since 2002.

Coin-flips were done before the match to determined league seedings for the CIF Division 1A playoffs. San Marcos will go as the league’s No. 1 representative followed by Ventura and Santa Barbara. The playoff pairings will be released on Friday.

Winning the coin-flip couldn’t help ease the pain of missing the chance to be the outright champion.

“That’s a hard loss on senior night and for the sole title,” San Marcos coach Erica Menzel Downing said. “I told (the players) I don’t share very well. It’s not the same.”

The Royals started strong, taking advantage of Ventura’s nervousness in the first set. But once the Cougars relaxed and settled down, San Marcos found itself in a dogfight.

“We were a little worried after the way we played in that first game,” Ventura coach Debbie Litten said. “The second game, not so much. We were right in it. Even though we lost 25-23, we felt like it was a good game. The first game didn’t feel that way. To come back and win against a good team like San Marcos three straight, that’s so tough … here, so tough.”

The Cougars jumped on San Marcos from the start of the third set, rolling out to a 6-1 lead. The Royals got as close as four, 18-15, but lefty outside hitter Sammy Slater delivered one of her team-high 15 kills to quell the rally.

Ventura kept the momentum going and kept digging balls and scoring in transition in the fourth set. Middle Paris Dosch provided a huge spark for the Cougars with three stuff blocks and a crushing spike on an overpass.

“The best match we’ve seen all year. She was huge,” said Litten of her senior captain.

When Dosch and sophomore middle Aubrey Knight weren’t blocking San Marcos hits, the Cougars’ back-row defense was picking them up. They took away Anika Wilson’s line shot and funneled hits to libero Kobie Jimenez (25 digs), defensive specialist Desiree Grower and Amelia Shank (23 digs).

“We couldn’t put a ball down in the third, fourth and fifth game,” Downing lamented. “They outdug us. We couldn’t do anything. I thought their middles played really well. They played well. We just didn’t play great.”

Ventura’s middles of Dosch and Knight combined for 20 kills on the night. Dosch had 11 kills to go with six blocks while Knight had nine kills and two blocks.

Wilson led San Marcos with 19 kills and two service aces. Emily Allen had 10 kills and Chloe Allen, who’s been hobbled by sprained ankle, added five, all in the fifth set.

Down 14-11, Royals made a late run. Emily Allen put a ball away from the back row and Ventura committed a hitting error to make it 14-13. On the next play, the Cougars hard-hitting Armonee Hunter hammered a ball of the San Marcos block. The ball ricocheted across the court and into the San Marcos bench area. Wilson and Emily Allen chased it and Allen made a spectacular dig to keep the ball alive. Chloe Allen bumped back on the court and Gabi Peoples bumped it over the net. As Ventura prepared to set up its attack, the referee blew his whistle and ruled San Marcos made four hits on the ball.

The Royals were left stunned while the Cougars celebrated.