By Jeremy Balan
SAN JOSE — Sacred Heart Cathedral came into the CIF-Central Coast Section Division III final seeking its fourth consecutive title, but rival St. Ignatius made it clear early in the match that it was the superior team on the court Saturday.
The Wildcats imposed their will early and clinched their first CCS title in school history with a 25-15, 25-10, 25-20 win over Sacred Heart at Independence High School.
As CCS finalists, both teams qualify for the CIF state tournament, which begins Tuesday.
“[The players] knew what they needed to do today and definitely had some motivation,” said St. Ignatius head coach Lisa Becerra. “We have that rivalry to play off of and they know what’s at stake. They were saying in the locker room, ‘Five more [matches] until the state championship.’”
The key to the Wildcats’ success was their diverse attack, led by senior setter Christina Lee, who finished with a match-high 40 assists. She also had two kills on second contact and a match-high four aces.
Lee’s favorite target was junior Claire Healy, who finished with a match-high 11 kills, but Lee also fed other St. Ignatius players with regularity, as four other Wildcats finished with six kills or more.
“She just did an excellent job distributing the ball and that was huge for our offense,” Becerra said. “If the ball is always going to one spot, it’s easy to defend.”
While the St. Ignatius attack was effective and efficient, the Sacred Heart offense struggled early, recording just four kills in the first game and five in the second.
“We got caught flat-footed,” said Sacred Heart coach Margi Beima. “I think we got rattled early and it wasn’t until game three that we started playing. It didn’t go our way, that’s for sure.”
The third game was the most tightly contested and had seven ties, but Sacred Heart appeared to be getting back into the match, holding seven separate leads. But the Wildcats tied the match at 18-18 on a block from Leah Wesolek, then finished the game on a 7-2 run, capped by a Healy ace. It was Healy’s third ace of the match.
“In the beginning of the season, I was one of the worst servers,” Healy said. “It was just so fun to look up [after the ace] and see my teammates come and pound on me.”