By Jeremy Balan
The greatest strength of the Sacred Heart Cathedral girls volleyball team was on full display in its West Catholic Athletic League opener against visiting St. Francis on Wednesday night.
The Irish probably have the best hitters in the City, but every team in the WCAL has good hitters.
What put Sacred Heart over the top in its 25-23, 25-20, 22-25, 25-22 win over the Lancers was the Irish defense.
The Lancers (7-3, 0-1) outhit Sacred Heart 45-39 (in kills), but the Irish (7-0, 1-0) extended countless points with a staggering 114 digs and kept plays alive long enough for St. Francis to make 44 unforced errors.
“Our defense is keeping us in games,” said Sacred Heart head coach Margi Beima. “You see it time and time again.”
Sacred Heart senior libero Amanda led the way with a team-high 32 digs, junior defensive specialist Gabriela Ruvalcaba had 19 and senior outside hitter Courtney Wong added 14.
“We just wanted to keep the ball away from our side and we did everything to get our bodies between the ball and the floor,” Lee said.
The Irish had eight point-scoring blocks (led by a match-high four rejections by sophomore middle blocker Madison Murtagh), but also had several extended stretches where the Lancers could not get the ball over the net without a touch by the Sacred Heart block.
The defensive effort proved to be enough to give the Irish wins in the first two games, but they needed a little bit more to seal the match.
Wong came alive in the deciding fourth game, tallying five of her match-high 13 kills in the final frame.
The Irish trailed 20-16 in the fourth, but went on a 6-0 run, capped by back-to-back kills from Wong. Five points later, junior Sarah Plett ended the match with a cross-court kill.
“In game four, when we needed our offense to step up a little bit, they did,” Beima said. “We got the kills when we needed it.”
The Lancers had three players with double-digit kill tallies, led by 12 from junior Alexandra Espinoza and 11 from senior Chloe Lott, the daughter of NFL Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott. St. Francis rallied back to win game three, but failed to hold on to six separate leads in the fourth.
The Irish win also comes with considerable context. It’s Sacred Heart’s first league win against St. Francis since 2006, snapping a six-match losing streak, and also gives the Irish a tremendous advantage over the Lancers in the single-round-robin format of the WCAL.
Beima shied away from making any proclamations on the prospects of Sacred Heart winning its first WCAL title in school history, but for now, the Irish are on the right path.
“We’re happy about it because it’s a league win. They all matter a lot,” Beima said. “This year, in the WCAL, any team is going to be able to beat any other team on any given night. We’ve seen St. Francis play and I don’t think they had their best match. I wouldn’t say we had our best either, but we were able to outlast them.”
Highlight video from our friend George Nguyen.