By Jeremy Balan
SAN JOSE — It didn’t take long for Sacred Heart Cathedral to reestablish itself as the best girls volleyball program in the City.
The Irish completed a season sweep of rival St. Ignatius and clinched their fourth Central Coast Section Division III championship in five years with a 25-20, 27-25, 25-14 win on Saturday at Independence High School.
A year ago, it was St. Ignatius sweeping Sacred Heart for its first CCS title in school history, ending a three-year championship streak for the Irish.
“It was clear SI was the best team in Division III last year, but we had four wins over [them] this year and two or three would have been big,” said Sacred Heart head coach Margi Beima. “I’m just really proud of our girls, because when you watch us play, it’s so clearly a team effort.”
The Irish (30-7) attack was well-rounded and balanced, with six players recording five kills or more, led by a team-high nine kills from junior outside hitter Courtney Wong. Junior outside hitter Sarah Jones added eight kills and senior middle blocker Daniella Crismani tallied seven.
Wong might have finished with a double-digit kill total, but left the court in the third game after colliding with libero Amanda Lee.
Without their best hitter, the Irish went on a 13-4 run to end the game and Wong’s replacement, sophomore Sarah Plett recorded an ace and a kill in the surge.
“How huge was Plett?” Beima said. “That’s what we keep talking about. This group is all about team. We were worried about [Wong] because she’s got a pretty good lump on her cheek, but Plett came in and we knew she would help us a lot.”
The Irish played solid in the third game, but the late run was extended by frequent St. Ignatius mistakes. Eight of the final 10 Sacred Heart points came on St. Ignatius (26-12) unforced errors.
“This game requires a lot of emotional intensity and at the end, a couple of things didn’t go our way and we made some errors,” said St. Ignatius head coach Michelle Rybka.
The third game sealed the victory, but the most crucial moment may have come in the second. With St. Ignatius just a point away from a win, leading 24-22, the Irish eliminated the deficit and ultimately prevailed on the strength of an athletic an unrelenting defensive effort.
Four Sacred Heart players tallied 10 digs or more, led by 12 from Lee.
“When the game was on the line, our defense kept the ball in play for us to finish,” Beima said. “I can’t say enough about how tough our defense has been for us. They were gritty and they could have rolled in that game.”
St. Ignatius senior outside hitter Claire Healy finished a sparkling CCS run with another standout effort, scoring a match-high 12 kills, but the Wildcats could not overcome the momentum of late collapses in the first two games. St. Ignatius was also in a position to win the first game and was tied at 19-19, but the Irish ended the game on a 6-1 run.
“We were right there and it was hard to lose those first two games,” Rybka said. “It was so tangible and so close. It was a huge momentum shift, unfortunately not in our favor.”
Both teams with advance to the Division III state championship tournament, along with Academic Athletic Association champion Balboa, and after the loss, the Wildcats had instant motivation.
“Luckily for us, this isn’t the end of our season,” Rybka said. “[Potentially playing Sacred Heart again] is absolutely the fuel to our fire.”