GVB: Laguna seeded No. 1 for state regional

The Laguna Blanca girls volleyball team received the No. 1 seeding for the Southern Regional of the CIF Division 4 State Tournament on Sunday.

The Owls, who won the CIF-Southern Section Division 4AA championship over Alta Loma on Saturday, will open the state tournament on Tuesday at home against Summit of Fontana, the Division 4A runner-up. First serve is at 6 p.m.

Summit knocked out Cate in the 4A semifinals and fell to Desert in the final. Desert is the No. 2 seed in the regional.

The regional semifinals are on Nov. 28 and the final on Dec. 1. If Laguna Blanca can continue winning, it would play both those matches at Merovick Gym.

The state championship is Dec. 5 at Santiago Canyon College in Orange.

In the other Division 4 regional openers, No. 5 Sierra Tollhouse (Central Section) is at No. 4 Alta Loma (Southern Section); No 6 Elizabeth (L.A. City Section) travels to No. 3 Bakersfield Christian (Central Section) and No. 7 Calexico (San Diego Section) visits No. 2 Desert (Southern Section).

Laguna Blanca coach Jason Donnelly praised his players for their drive to improve and win a championship.

“Everyone on our roster played a key role,” he said Sunday. “We put these sophomores out there into some unfamiliar territory and allowed them to grow up on the job. And our lone junior, Maddy Nicoloson, is one of our most versatile players, and her ability to play multiple positions proved huge in the Finals.

“We couldn’t have asked for more from our three seniors (Phoebe Madsen, Dani Abrams and Emily Lafitte),” he continued.  “They wanted it really bad and it was great to see them all play well in the playoffs. They were able to focus on their own games while still being great leaders. We asked them to leave it on the floor and that’s what they did.”

Laguna Blanca prevailed in five sets in both the semifinals and final. They were the only five-set matches the Owls played all year.

The pressure of playing a fifth set didn’t faze the Owls in either match.

“I think it goes back to one of our main focuses throughout the season,” Donnelly noted.  “We make a conscious effort to treat every practice, opponent and situation the same. It doesn’t matter who we are playing or how big (or small) the moment seems, our focus doesn’t change. (The players) have been preparing for this since August, even though they might not have always realized it. These girls enjoy playing volleyball with their friends and that mindset allowed them to relax whenever things got tough. They realized it was just a game and I think that took some of the pressure off.”