By Jeremy Balan
The Sacred Heart Cathedral girls volleyball team repeated the result of their second-round win over Balboa in the Division III state championship playoffs last season, but really didn’t get going until the third game.
After two sloppy games, the Irish rolled in the third to complete a non-league sweep of the visiting Buccaneers, 25-14, 25-17, 25-10 on Thursday night.
The Irish offense went hot and cold at times in the match, but their defensive effort, both at the net and in the back row, was solid throughout.
Sacred Heart (1-0) limited the Bucs (1-1) to just 10 combined kills, got a team-high 13 digs from libero Amanda Lee and rode a standout blocking performance by the front row.
“We were way bigger than Balboa, but they dug a lot of our balls and didn’t make as many hitting errors,” said Sacred Heart head coach Margi Beima. “We had to be better on defense and blocking. That kinda saved us.”
With 6-foot-1 sophomore middle blockers Madison Murtagh and Kaitlyn Jochum anchoring the front row, the Bucs struggled to get any set close to the net over the Irish block.
“Their defense is amazing and I’ve always been impressed with them,” said Balboa head coach Val Cubales. “They move on defense and it’s that experience that they have that is the difference.”
Murtagh and Jochum didn’t have a tremendous impact offensively in the first two games, as the Irish attack struggled as a whole, but the duo came alive in the third game and the Sacred Heart offense followed suit.
Murtagh had five kills and two blocks in the third game, and Jochum, in her first varsity match, added three kills of her own. Murtagh and senior outside hitter Courtney Wong finished with a team-high nine kills, while seven other Sacred Heart players recorded kills.
But the first two games were far from perfect for the Irish. The Bucs only tallied four kills in the first two games, but were buoyed by an inconsistent Irish attack that made several hitting mistakes.
“We made a lot of hitting errors, more than we’re used to,” Beima said. “Maybe it was first-game jitters, but we definitely got better as the match went on and made better decisions.”
Balboa’s defense also played well, despite being outsized in the front row, but struggled mightily offensively.
In the first game, Balboa setter Maribel Matos had as many aces (three) than the Bucs had kills.
Still, the Bucs were competitive early in the first two games, were tied at 13-13 in the first (before the Irish finished the game on a 12-1 run) and held a 14-13 lead in the second.
“I’m just really happy we were able to go back and forth with them,” Cubales said. “In the third game, I just think we lost energy. In the first two games, I was very happy we stayed competitive.”
In the third game, the Irish showed a glimpse of what they may be capable of this season and with so many key pieces back from a team that just missed the Division III state championship game, they have a reason to have high expectations.
“We always have really high goals,” Beima said. “Our goals are to win championships – plural.”
Mayra Jiminez – 6
Cynthia Ngan – 4
Sacred Heart Cathedral
Madison Murtagh – 9
Courtney Wong – 9
Kaitlyn Jochum – 5
Sarah Jones – 4
Sara Plett – 4