Mary Star of the Sea gave the Laguna Blanca volleyball team all it could handle Saturday afternoon, as the Stars came away with the sweep winning by set scores of 26-24, 25-18, 25-17.
The Stars (32-3, 8-0 in the Camino Real League) were led by juniors Sammie Sabra and Serena Ramirez and sophomore Marlina Rivera in the win. The Stars defense was able to provide a counter punch on nearly every rally by the Owls, whose season comes to an end in the second round of the CIF SS Division 6 playoffs.
“We had our moments,” said Owls coach Jason Donnelly following the loss. “We had four- and five-point runs and unfortunately we gave up four- or five-point runs too many times. That hasn’t happened to us a lot this year and we couldn’t figure it out tonight. That team played well and I thought we played well for the most part, but we just didn’t play as clean as we’ve played this year.
Mary Star of the Sea jumped ahead to an early 5-0 lead, but the Owls battled back behind a pair of service aces by Sophia Webster. Laguna Blanca held a 10-9 lead following a block at the net by senior Macy Christal. Ahead 16-15, the Stars’ Marina Erosa had two consecutive services aces and a block to give the Stars a 19-15 lead. Trailing 23-20, Annie Gabler ripped off three straight service aces. A kill by Christal tied the score at 24, though Sabra slammed a kill before a hitting error gave the Stars the first set.
“I saw a lot of heart and character from our team,” Donnelly said. “We were trying to find our way down 18-23 in game one and came back and tied it 23-all. That’s a character team. We had every opportunity, I thought we were going to win that game and unfortunately we didn’t.”
The Stars dominate play would carry over to the second set, puling ahead 15-6 behind six kills by Sabra to open the set. The Owls rallied to pull within 20-13, though a pair of service aces by the Stars’ Ashley Reyes and a kill by Rivera helped the Stars take a two-set lead.
“We got down big in game two, but our kids fought back again. That’s been a testament to this group all year. They fight for each other,” Donnelly said. “We’ve been ahead a lot more than we’ve been behind this year, and tonight we just couldn’t quite get over the hump. We couldn’t sustain any runs and we couldn’t keep them from going on big runs and that’s the difference in the match.”
Laguna Blanca had been practicing top-spin jump floats before the match, though the Stars’ servers provided different angles that kept the Owls off balance.
“In the end, it really just came down to communicating,” Christal said after the match.
In the third set, Rivera and Serena Ramirez helped the Stars pull ahead 11-4 and forced the Owls to take a timeout. Gabler and Christal had a pair of kills before Ramirez capitalized on a block at the net and a kill to give the Stars a 15-8 lead. Ramirez, who is committed to the University of Arizona to play beach volleyball, continued to dominate with a pair of kills and a block to help the Stars advance.
“She’s a beach player and is not an indoor player, but she does one heck of a job,” Stars co-head coach Luaren Orebo said after the match.
Sabra’s dominant start proved to be contagious, as the Stars were able to rely on the junior to come up with key points when it mattered most.
“I wish I had a million Sammie Sabra’s,” said co-head coach Sean Zuvich. “This girl wants to win, not just for herself but it’s because she cares about the girl next to her.”
Webster and Gabler each had four service aces. Christal and Audrey Murphy finished with six fills and a piece and Ainsley McGovern had four kills. Webster and Chritsal also had seven digs apiece, while Bea Lujan and Murphy each had five kills.
Although it was an abrupt end to the season, the Owls still have plenty to be happy about. They were able to bounce back from a 7-17 campaign a year ago and win the Frontier League.
“I’m beyond proud of us,” Christal said. “We’ve come so far. Last year we didn’t even make it close to the playoffs, so it really meant a lot as a senior to be able to be league champions and then make it to the second round of CIFs. I’ll never forget this team.”
The Owls were greeted by a standing ovation from the crowd as they left the floor of Merovick Gymnasium.
Donnelly said it was fun to take on such good competition, though admitted it wasn’t very fun coming out on the losing end.
“Our kids will look back on this season and be proud of what we accomplished,” he said.
The Stars will take on the winner of Nordhoff and Barstow on Wednesday.