GVB: Royals fight off Dons in four tight sets

The San Marcos and Santa Barbara girls volleyball teams both showed plenty of fight during their first Channel League crosstown match in an oven-like Thunderhut on Tuesday night.

The visiting Dons fought back from a 2-0 deficit in sets, eked out a win in the third set and rode the momentum to a 10-5 lead in the fourth set.

That’s when San Marcos rolled up its sleeves and roared back to win the set and match for its second league triumph. Junior setter Gabi Peoples served back-to-back aces for a 24-21 lead and the Royals threw up a three-person block on Dons’ outside hitter Jessyca Beksa for the final point in a 29-27, 25-19, 24-26, 25-21 victory.

Royals senior outside hitter and UCSB commit Chloe Allen led all attackers with 29 kills on a 68 swings for a .260 hitting percentage. Middle Kamille Williams recorded eight kills, Peoples had six to go along with 51 assists and four aces, and Jenna MacFarlane and Adyson Colburn contributed four kills each.

Santa Barbara got 21 kills from Beksa and 19 from outside hitter Lourda Weger, including nine in the third set. Megan Seabury played a solid match at libero for the Dons (1-1 in league), picking up 22 digs.

The Dons were serving for the win in the first set at 25-24, but San Marcos stayed alive as Williams buried a middle set from Peoples to tie the score. The teams traded points until a Santa Barbara error gave San Marcos a 28-27 lead. Colburn hit off the block for the final point.

The second set was tight until San Marcos went on a 6-0 run to open up a 24-17 advantage. A Williams tip scored the final point.

Santa Barbara picked up its game in the third behind the play of Weger. She had two kills and a block for points to tie the score at 19-19. The Dons went up 24-21, but San Marcos stayed in it behind some tough serving from Peoples. Her serve set up a Allen kill on an overpass to knot the score at 24-24. Santa Barbara was able to score the final two points on a serving and hitting error.

“We definitely lost momentum and control in the third set, and they definitely came back fighting,” said Allen. “It was a little scary. But in the fourth set we definitely gained it back with some big points.”

Allen scored several big points by mixing up her attacks. He tips were especially effective. She dropped a tip over the blockers to end a long rally in the fourth set to tie the score at 21-21.

“When everyone is on their heels, you can see it and they’re nowhere ready for it.” she said. “It comes in handy when you’re getting a little tired and can’t swing as hard.”

On the next point, the Dons couldn’t make a play on a MacFarlane free ball close to the net, putting San Marcos into the lead at 22-21. Peoples followed with a pair of aces before Colburn, Kristine Fimlaid and Allen teamed up to block Beksa.

San Marcos coach Erica Downing was pleased how her team responded after the third-set loss.

“We were wondering if we plateaued a little bit,” she said. “That’s where we were, ‘OK, what are you guys made of? What are we going to do here.’ We came back and, thankfully, we had a little fight in us in that fourth game. That’s what makes this better.”

Santa Barbara coach John Gannon said the difference for his team in the third set was better ball control and the play of Weger.

“She really stepped up in that set. She had nine kills in that set.”

The play of sophomore setter Linnea Skinner also improved through the long match, which was a boost to the Santa Barbara attack.

“Linnea Skinner did a really good job setting for us as a sophomore having to step into this match. It was really good to see,” said Gannon.

“Big picture: great match, fun volleyball, the way it should be in this town,” he added. “I was really proud of the way the girls played and handled themselves. We had a set point in the first set and we have to take advantage of that.”

Downing lauded her varsity veterans Allen and Peoples for carrying the load. The pair do so many things for the Royals. On Allen’s several contributions: “She now knows what to expect, and it’s a lot of work. Thankfully, she has the support,” Downing said.

On Peoples: “Gabi scores a lot of points just by her athleticism, getting to balls not many setters can get to,” Downing said. “She can run things down, she can dump, she can block. In that fourth set, she basically took over the game. That’s what good athletes do. It’s great to see that.”