GVB: DP gives strong effort to upend Laguna Blanca

In the big picture, the first meeting between Dos Pueblos and Laguna Blanca in girls volleyball served its purpose for both teams.

For Laguna, it was the opportunity to play good competition to prepare for what it hopes will be a long postseason run. DP, meanwhile, was looking to rebound from a tough five-set loss to San Marcos against a quality opponent while building momentum for the second round of Channel League play.

The Chargers put together a balanced attack, got a terrific performance from libero Cat Hogan and played well down the stretch in each set to pull out a four-set victory at Merovick Gym. The scores were 25-17, 26-28, 25-23, 25-17.

Ali Milam led the DP attack with 10 kills, Danica Minnich had 8 kills, 7 digs and 4 blocks, Bianca Di Patrizi added 7 kills and 3 blocks and Hogan scooped up a career-high 35 digs.

Middle Dani Abrams buried 14 kills and Phoebe Madsen recorded a triple-double with 11 kills, 17 digs and 31 assists to pace the Owls. They also got strong defensive play from Emily Lafitte with 18 digs and Kendall White and Sophia Fay with 13 digs apiece.

“We get a ton out of this match,” said Laguna coach Jason Donnelly, whose team is 12-6 and ranked fourth in CIF Division 4AA. “For our girls, the learning, especially in the second game where we gave up the game point and we were able to come back, we had a couple of calls go against us and they really responded well. They stayed focused, they stayed consistent and we were able to pull that game out. Unfortunately, we didn’t play consistently throughout the night. We got to play these teams, good teams, to get ready for the playoffs. We got a lot out of it even though it’s no fun to lose.”

Dos Pueblos was the Owls’ second Channel League opponent. They lost in four sets to Santa Barbara last month.

Dos Pueblos (4-11) capitalized on a Laguna Blanca serving error followed by back-to-back net calls to build an 18-12 lead in the first set. The Chargers closed out the set on a kill in the middle by Di Patrizi, an outside attack from Minnich and an Owls hitting error.

Minnich was a key factor in the DP win. She also played in the middle to slow down Laguna’s powerful Abrams.

“Danica is back,” Bennett declared. “We used her in multiple positions tonight because she has played middle blocker. We knew we needed a middle blocker with some experience against Dani Abrams because Dani is quite honestly the best middle blocker in our town. We needed somebody to slow her down if possible and close the block in the middle and Danica did a fantastic job.”

Dos Pueblos battled back from a 24-21 deficit in the second set and put itself in position to win it at 25-24. But Laguna tied the score on a Caylin Zimmerman kill down the line. The Owls fought off another set point at 26-25 and finally pulled it out on kill by Abrams and a DP hitting error.

In the third set, Karissa Mertens came up big, delivering consecutive kills to tie the score at 23-23 and combined with Aubrey Baldwin on a block for the winning point.

“She was out sick a few days so she didn’t start, but she came in and did her job,” Bennett said of Mertens. “She hit down the line, she passed the ball and she blocked a couple of balls, which was what we need to her to do.”

The fourth set was close until DP went on a 4-0 run to open up a 16-12 lead. Back-to-back aces by Di Patrizi upped the advantage to 20-14.

“We usually out-serve and out-pass every team we play,” Donnelly said. “They got us out of system and, because of our lack of size, we struggle some times when we’re out of system. It wasn’t for a lack of effort. That’s how it goes in volleyball some times.”

Dos Pueblos got solid passing and defense from Hogan at libero.

“Cat is the best libero in town,” Bennett said. “She’s one of our smartest players. We really need her to play like that to win because our strengths are not blocking, our strengths are not attacking, our strengths are passing and digging. And she’s the best passer and best defender in the league.”

The match marked the return of Bennett to Laguna, where he coached six years at the middle school and the high school. Most of the players on the Laguna varsity played for him in middle school.

“It was a very interesting experience,” he said. “I worked with those girls since they started playing volleyball and I knew that coming back. I knew we’d have a tough fight because the way we worked through middle school and later into high school was play with energy, play with fire and play as hard as you can. And they sure did that. It was nice to see that tonight in a big match.”