By Jeremy Balan
With three-time defending champion Sacred Heart Cathedral already advancing to the section final earlier in the night, rival St. Ignatius also did their part to secure a CIF-Central Coast Section Division III championship bid with a 25-23, 25-23, 25-16 win over visiting Valley Christian on Thursday at Sacred Heart Cathedral.
What was most impressive about the third-seeded Wildcats (32-6) performance was the versatility they showed in winning each game.
In the first game, the Wildcats rallied back after surrendering an eight-point lead, and in the third they dominated from the start, but it was a key run in the second came that crushed the upset-minded Warriors (18-18) morale.
Down 18-11 in the second game and reeling from key unforced errors, the Wildcats rallied to even the score at 23-23, then sealed the game on consecutive points on a block from senior Christina Lee and a kill from junior Claire Healy.
“It was huge,” said St. Ignatius head coach Lisa Becerra. “Momentum is huge in volleyball and the girls really needed that second game under their belts to stay on that roll. They got so pumped up from coming back. It was critical.”
While St. Ignatius seized the momentum of the match in the second game, Valley Christian appeared to lose it’s drive, and it showed in the deciding third.
“To lose a game that you’re so far ahead is just tough,” said Valley Christian co-head coach Rob Georges. “In the third game, we just had a different character. We went out there thinking, ‘We tried our best and it wasn’t good enough. Now what do we do?'”
St. Ignatius junior outside hitter Maria Kemiji-McDonald tied Healy with a match-high 11 kills, but five of them came in the crucial second game. Junior middle blocker Michellie McDonald-O’Brien also contributed 10 kills in the match.
“Our seniors didn’t want that to be our last match, so it was really important for us to win,” Kemiji-McDonald said. “They team all together played really well. You need a pass, a set and a kill every time, so it’s important for everyone to work together.”
Sacred Heart also dispatched their semifinal opponent, top-seeded Aptos, in straight games, 25-23, 25-15, 25-20, and the two rivals will face off again in the final on Saturday at Independence High School in San Jose.
St. Ignatius got the best of Sacred Heart in a five-game win in their only meeting this season, but Becerra and the Wildcats know the Irish will have experience on their side.
“I think they’re going to be a little bit more comfortable and I think they’ll have a nothing-to-lose,” Becerra said. “We’re going to have to start how we ended tonight.”