GVB: Royals have it all going in sweep over Dons

Lucy Branch, left, and Chloe Mauceri put up a block on San Marcos' Chloe Allen.

Lucy Branch, left, and Chloe Mauceri of Santa Barbara put up a block on San Marcos’ Chloe Allen. (John Dvorak/Presidio Sports Photos)


They call her “Christmas,” and she was a wonderful gift for the San Marcos girls volleyball team on Tuesday night at Santa Barbara High.

Freshman Kristine “Christmas” Fimlaid provided strong play in the middle to give the CIF Division 1A sixth-ranked Royals a more diversified attack, which helped them to a 25-17, 25-21, 25-21 sweep over the Dons to remain in first place in the Channel League.

Fimlaid and Kamille Williams each had four kills, closed down on blocks to contain Santa Barbara’s big hitters of Jessyca Beksa and Lourda Weger and made some clutch plays in transitions.

San Marcos coach Erica Downing said Fimlaid is improving in tracking hitters, and it showed against the Dons.

“From where she was till tonight, it’s like a world of difference” said Downing of Fimlaid’s play. “She was awesome; she had a break-out game. She’s comfortable in that spot, the girls are comfortable and (setter) Gabi (Peoples) is comfortable setting her. We’ve been doing a lot of work on transition and she’s been working really hard. She is the perfect person on this team right now to have in that spot. She’s made tremendous improvement.”

San Marcos improves to 24-5 overall and 6-1 in league, tied for first with Ventura. Santa Barbara is 14-11 and 4-3. The Dons complete league play at Ventura on Wednesday. The Royals play Dos Pueblos next week. Both teams are in this weekend’s Tournament of Champions at Santa Barbara.

Fimlaid said she had fun playing in the intense crosstown match at Santa Barbara and credited Peoples for getting her more involved. “Gabi ran a really good offense and I was able to get a lot of kills.”

On her blocking against the Dons’ big hitters, she said, “I really like blocking them because it gets me really energized and makes me play better.”

Fimlaid made a big block in the second set to give the Royals a 22-20 lead, which started a 4-1 run to end the set. In the third set, she finished off a tremendous defensive sequence with a two-handed push of an overpass for a 20-16 lead. Later, she put away a ball for a 21-18 lead.

“Transition has been our thing this week,” Downing said. “Our defense has been better, so we’ve been able to set our middles during transition. To go deeper in CIF, we won’t be able to ride Chloe all of the time, we’re going to have to get other players involved. We’ve seen how important that is against a good team. It’s fun to watch.”

Santa Barbara coach John Gannon said San Marcos attacked the middle a lot more than in the first meeting between the teams.

“They’re not so one-dimensional and that makes them a tough team,” he said. “That changed the dynamics of the match.”

As she has all season, Chloe Allen led the Royals’ attack with 16 kills on a .420 hitting percentage. But Downing noted the importance of players like Fimlaid, Williams and sophomore outside hitter Jenna MacFarlane, who contributed eight kills and provided solid passing.

“We’re going to have a hard time competing against a team that has that much offensive firepower,” said Gannon.

“Chloe is always going to have her kills; she’s always going to have the big role for us,” Downing said. “For Jenna, she’s taken on the role of? ‘I’m supporting her; I’m going to get my kills when I can, but, really, I’m going to pass and play defense.’ She was probably our best passer tonight.”

Cassidy Drury-Pullen starred on defense for the Royals, running and sliding all over the court to keep plays alive.

“Cassidy finally got in her groove,” Downing said. “She verbally committed to play sand at Cal and I think that took a lot of relief off of her. It’s been kind of  stressful for her. She’s been playing with a different mentality. It’s great to see us all coming together at the right time.”

Beksa and Weger had 12 and 11 kills, respectively, to lead the Dons, who rarely led in the match.

“We were playing from behind the whole night and that’s what made it tough for us,” said Gannon. “We couldn’t get that lead we needed and play from the front.”