Audrey Murphy didn’t play that much as a sophomore on the Laguna Blanca girls varsity volleyball team in 2017. That squad made it to the CIF-Southern Section quarterfinals.
She got quite a bit of playing time as a junior last season, but didn’t see a second of action in the postseason because the Owls didn’t make it that far.
On Thursday, in front of a raucous home crowd, Murphy stepped on the court for the first time as a starter in the playoffs, and she didn’t disappoint. The affable senior had eight kills and was outstanding on defense to help lead Laguna Blanca to a 25-22, 25-17, 25-19 victory over La Mirada in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 6 playoffs.
Murphy’s final Kill was a solid shot down the middle of the court that ended the match.
“We realized at our team breakfast this morning that none of our playing seniors had ever actually stepped foot on a CIF game floor,” Murphy said. “We were watching during our sophomore year (from the bench), but we didn’t play.
“I think we pulled it off for never having played in one before.”
The Owls did just that.
After falling behind, 4-1, in the opening set, Laguna Blanca turned it on and never trailed again in the opening set after taking an 11-10 lead. The second set wasn’t close. The owls jumped out to a 12-3 lead and were never threatened.
They did fall behind to start the third set, but, like the first, Laguna Blanca rallied and sailed after securing a 17-10 lead.
It was all to the delight of coach Jason Donnelly, who admitted afterward that he didn’t know much about La Mirada.
“You always want to have some kind of preparation, but I couldn’t really find much information about this team,” he said. “We got the draw over the weekend and I looked a little bit, but I didn’t find much.
“We had good practices on Tuesday and Wednesday, and we were just focusing on our side of the net.”
Donnelly had all the intel he needed after the first couple of rotations.
“It doesn’t take me too long to figure out what a team likes to do, and once we were able to adjust to what they wanted to do, and took that away from them, then we were playing really well,” he said.
Macy Christal led the Owls with 14 kills. Ainsley McGovern finished with nine, Murphy had her eight and Ella Delwiche added six to lead the Laguna Blanca attack. While the big hitters showed up for the Owls, one could easily make an argument that junior setter Annie Gabler was the best player on the floor for the home side.
Gabler displayed pin-point passing and terrific back sets all match. She finished with 41 assists, which is a lot for a three-setter. Certainly credit goes to the hitters for converting on their kill attempts, but Laguna Blanca may have quite easily faced a different challenge and perhaps a different fate had it not been for Gabler’s stellar play.
“I’m extremely proud of her,” Donnelly said. “She just keeps getting better, and she’s a wonderful kid. Her confidence has grown. She’s really bought into being a quiet leader on our team, and she keeps all our hitters involved.
“When you’re a setter that keeps all your hitters happy, that’s a good thing, and she does a really nice job of that.”
Donnelly also got a strong performance from Paige Levinson, who finished with three kills and was a big factor on defense in the middle.
“When you have five attackers and a setter who can get them the ball, you’re feeling pretty good about the way you play,” Donnelly said. “When we take care of that first ball and serve like we served tonight, we’re a tough team to beat.”
Laguna Blanca will host Mary Star of the Sea in a second-round Division 6 match on Saturday. Donnelly said he wouldn’t know the time of the match until today.