GVB: Dons escape with a four-set win at DP

Santa Barbara High volleyball coach John Gannon said his team would have had a tough time matching the energy and intensity Dos Pueblos brought to Thursday night’s Channel League match at Sovine Gym.

The Chargers’ energy could have lit up the Goleta hills at night. They were flying all over the court to pick up tipped balls and big hits from the Dons. Their hustle was rewarded with a 25-23 victory in the first set.

Santa Barbara survived DP’s frenzied play and the loss of starting setter Linnea Skinner to an injury and gutted out a four-set win, 23-25, 25-18, 25-22, 27-25.

The Dons are now 2-1 in league while DP falls to 0-2.

“It was one of those things where we had to gut it out,” Gannon said of the hard-earned victory. “(DP) played exceptionally hard; they played to win, they were swinging aggressively. We just had to play smart. You saw their intensity. We couldn’t match that intensity. We had to play mental, like smart volleyball.”

The Dons also had to readjust after Skinner suffered an ankle injury at 19-14 in the first set. Dos Pueblos took advantage of that adjustment period and outscored Santa Barbara 11-4 the rest of the way. Danica Minnich, Ali Milam and Karissa Mertens led the comeback.

“When (Skinner) went out, we had to figure out a new lineup,” said Santa Barbara’s Lourda Weger, who led all players with 23 kills. “She’s a big part of the team and we need her a lot. I think once we got into the groove with her being out, we knew had to play for her and stepped it up.”

Zoe Maritorena came through when called upon to help the Dons prevail.

“She’s our third-string setter and does a great job,” praised Gannon. “What she did, it changed things for us. She picked up the tips. She was on it.”

The second set was tight. A Weger kill tied the score at 12-12 and freshman Chloe Mauceri followed with a block to give Santa Barbara the lead for good. A DP setting error and a tough serve by Weger made it 15-12.

A Milam putaway brought DP to within one at 16-15. But the Dons went on a 6-1 run, capitalizing on three Charger hitting errors.

“It’s been a learning process,” DP coach Dillan Bennett said. “These girls don’t have a lot of confidence. This is a team that hasn’t made the playoffs and a lot of these girls haven’t played a varsity match against Santa Barbara High in a league game. The errors were going to come; it was the silly ones that were an issue. We got to be smarter than that and make a good play. We’re still working on that.”

Mertens led DP with 16 kills and seven digs, Milam had 13 kills and two blocks and Minnich added nine kills, two digs, two blocks and an ace.

DP pushed the Dons in the third set, rallying from a 16-11 deficit to tied the set a 22-22. But Weger rescued Santa Barbara with a couple of big kills. Chloe Mauceri and Kaitlyn Connolly combined on a block for the winning point.

“Our girls were just stoked we could compete,” Bennett said of the closeness of the match. “We lost a lot of girls last year and we’re stroked with the group of girls we have on the court that can compete.”

Weger said she and Jessyca Beksa had to be smart with their hitting against DP’s tenacious defense.

“They were digging up some great balls,” she said. :”Cat (Hogan) is a great libero and she was doing a great job. Jess and I just have to swing smart, and Gannon has been telling us to be aggressive all week and that’s what we did.”

Beksa finished with 19 kills and was clutch down the stretch in the fourth set.

At the start of the fourth set, I told the girls this fourth set is going to be as much mental as it is physical,” Gannon said. “It wasn’t the prettiest volleyball, but it was good match and a good way for us to gut it out.

“You can see it, the girls were really fighting and trying their hardest out there. Jess, God bless her, she was all over the place.”

With her team down 23-21, Beksa made a reaction play on a ball and it found an open spot on DP’s side of the net. She followed with two more points for a 24-23 lead. Minnich sided out for DP, but the Chargers netted on the next play. A Milam kill tied the score again at 25-25.

The Santa Barbara’s big guns finished off the match. Weger scored on a hard-angle spike and Beksa put away a back-row kill for the final point.

“Jess she’s big for us,” Gannon said. “She’s still growing as player and learning how to be that complete player. It’s a maturation process that she’s got to go through to play at the next level. And she wants to play at the next level.”

He was pleased how his players handled the match intensity and pulled through with their starting setter out with an injury.

“A lot of credit to all the girls because it would have been easy to fold considering how hard DP played. Every play was like the CIF finals,” Gannon said. “I told the girls you got to be steady. You can’t try to play somebody else’s game because that’s there game. We have to be us.”