Down 24-23 in the second set after losing the first, junior outside hitter Taylor Wilson got a great look on a ball that was set perfectly. Instead of it resulting in a kill, however, it went out of bounds past South Torrance’s service line.
Wilson looked down at the ground, stunned she missed a great chance to keep San Marcos alive.
Fast forward to the fifth set and a 14-10 lead for the Royals, Wilson got the same look. This time, she hit the ball hard and right at two South Torrance defenders.
The ball fell to the ground and Wilson shot her fist and her head straight up with a wide smile.
“It was really a bummer for me to kind of miss that last point (in the second set) but I wasn’t gonna let it happen in the next game and I just made sure that I came out firing and really aggressive,” Wilson said.
Wilson’s aggression led to her having a season-high 25 kills on 35 attempts on Saturday as she and the rest of the San Marcos team put forth an incredible effort to rally from a 2-0 deficit to win five sets in the second round of the CIF-SS Division 3 Bracket. The set scores were 17-25, 23-25, 25-15, 25-17, 15-10.
“It was pretty amazing. After that second game, I knew we had it in us from the (Santa Barbara) TOC and even on Thursday when we went down one set and I just knew if we brought it back, brought our energy we could do it and that’s what we did,” senior libero Grace Matthews said.
Wilson also added 17 digs on the night along with a solo block.
“Personally I thought of it as a challenge like … we’re gonna come firing, we’re going to bring our heat and I think we did just that and we played for each other and as a team and it was just incredible,” Wilson said.
With the win, San Marcos advances to the third round of the bracket where it will host Polytechnic High on Wednesday. Poly of Pasadena is undefeated at 21-0 and is coming off a five-set win against La Salle on Saturday.
Though Wilson led the Royals offense in kills on Saturday, it was truly a team performance that helped guide this team to win.
First, Matthews was an absolute force on Saturday.
She had a team-high 47 digs and, more importantly, dove for every single ball she could.
“I think I just try not to even think about it. My mindset is to just go. Even if there’s someone there, just go for it because you don’t want the ball to drop no matter what,” Matthews said.
Facing tough hitters with powerful swings all night, Matthews was unfazed and kept nearly every ball she touched in play.
“It was definitely a little new, they had more height and power but once our blockers adjusted and really got in front of it and were able to slow the ball down, it made a huge difference,” Matthews said.
Matthews also added six assists and a service ace.
Second, lefty hitters Bella Johnson and Madison Oriskovich were great from the outside, providing a solid attack opposite of Wilson with 11 and 20 kills, respectively.
Facing a South Torrance defense where the shortest middle blocker was an even 6’0” feet tall, Johnson and Oriskovich had to not only be more careful with the shot selection but also help Brynn Sofro keep control of 6’5” Jennifer Wroblicky.
“Yeah, I mean having a left-hand advantage really helps. It moves around their block and it really makes them come up, but they had a really good defense. I think that they did a really good job and they showed a lot of character and so did we,” Oriskovich said.
Finally, senior middle blocker Sofro had a great match at the net. Facing Wroblicky, Sofro said she, “had a little bit of fear,” at first, but once she got into it she really held her in check.
Wroblicky did finish with 14 kills, but Sofro constantly frustrated her, especially in the last three sets.
“Once I got a few blocks, I gained a little bit of confidence, so I knew, I got her, even though she’s 6’5”, I got her,” Sofro said.
What happened with Sofro could really be said for the entire San Marcos team.
In the first set, San Marcos really had trouble with the Spartans’ tough block. The two teams were close, tied at 9-9 at one point, but South ran off eight of the next nine points to go up 17-10. The Royals also had no answer for senior outside hitter Kailia Lopez who had five of her team-high 17 kills in the first set alone.
Things were a lot tighter in the second set as neither team gained much separation.
Tied at 15-15, Matthews showed her defensive prowess, keeping the ball alive with a left-arm stab, then after it bounced off a San Marcos player, she dove and hit the ball facing backwards over the net. San Marcos eventually won the point to take a 16-15 lead.
San Marcos took a 19-16 lead, but could not keep the distance. The teams would trade ties until, at 23-23, South Torrance got a kill from Wroblicky and then Wilson hit the ball too far to give them a 2-0 lead.
Down 2-0, co-coaches Dwayne Hauschild and Tina Brown took the team into the locker room.
“They just sat us down and said ‘We’re good, we got this, let’s just clean up a few things. Pedal to the medal, let’s do our thing,’” Wilson said.
That speech woke the Royals up.
San Marcos never trailed in the third set. Wilson, after her fatal mistake in the second, more than made up for it in the third with eight kills. Johnson and Oriskovich added three each.
In the fourth set, things looked a bit bleak at first. South jumped out to a 5-1 lead thanks to two kills from Lopez.
After a service error from Lopez, setter Ava Cole went back to serve for the Royals and she did an outstanding job, first notching back-to-back aces and then another great serve that was poorly received and allowed for an easy spike kill for Wilson to tie the match at 5-5.
Cole was also great in the setting department along with Ashley Day as each dished out 31 assists on the night.
Tied at 10-10, San Marcos again turned on the juice and finished the set on a 15-7 run. Wilson had five kills while Sofro really took control of the middle adding four kills in the set as she finished with eight.
In the final set, the Royals just looked like the team with the momentum on their side. South committed five attack errors in the fifth frame, Sofro had two service aces and Wilson and Oriskovich each had three kills to help lock down the win for San Marcos.
“We worked so hard to get to this fifth set and we made it this far, we were just ready and just wanted to win,” Matthews said.
Wednesday will be a first for all the Royals on the roster as no senior has made it past the second round of the CIF playoffs.
And, on a night where it looked like that was a bleak possibility, it’s important to celebrate this victory before getting back to practice and getting ready for a team that has not lost this season.
“It felt like it (the season) was coming to an end, especially after the second game but fighting through it and realizing ‘we get to have one more practice and one more game’ is wow,” Sofro said.
“It’s just special.”