By Jeremy Balan
The Sacred Heart Cathedral girls volleyball team took the air out of its own home gym quickly on Wednesday night.
The Irish opened up a 15-3 lead in the first game of their Central Coast Section Division III semifinal match against visiting Aptos and the contest was never really in question the rest of the way in their 25-18, 25-19, 25-12 win.
“It was uneventful, but I like uneventful,” said Sacred Heart head coach Margi Beima. “As long as the the score is 25 on our side, uneventful is OK.”
The reason for Beima’s bright outlook was because the second-seeded Irish (28-7) extended one of the most impressive streaks across all City sports. The win on Wednesday puts Sacred Heart into its ninth straight CCS championship game, where they will face West Catholic Athletic League rival and top seed Valley Christian. Another trip to the championship game also means another berth in the Division III state tournament.
“It’s not lost on us,” Beima said. “We told them after the game, ‘Congratulations, you just qualified for the state tournament,’ and that’s why this win is so big. To do this for eight years and now make it nine, there’s a little bit of pressure there to keep carrying the torch.”
Even though they did have the early big lead in the first game, for the rest of that frame and for most of the second, the Irish were not at their best.
Sacred Heart allowed the Mariners (20-11) to cut the large first-game lead to 20-15 before ultimately prevailing, then allowed Aptos to hold six separate leads early in the second before pulling away.
In the third, however, the Irish were firing on all cylinders.
Sacred Heart again jumped out to a significant early lead (13-2 at one point) and rode the hot hand of middle blocker Madison Murtagh.
The 6-foot-1 sophomore had four kills in the final game, but also played significant time in the back row – a position she was subbed out for in her freshman year – and recorded two aces in a 5-0 run.
“Her game is evolving and she’s better now than she was,” Beima said. “She gets to play a little defense and serve, and I’m really proud of her back there.”
While Murtagh ruled the clinching game and finished with a team-high 10 kills, the Irish attack was balanced, as it has been all season. Eight different Sacred Heart players recorded kills and four had five or more.
“Our kids really buy into team, so nobody needs to be a star,” Beima said. “If somebody has 20 kills for us, that’s awesome, but if we can do it with a balanced offense, that makes us happy.”
Sacred Heart was shaky at times, but the Mariners appeared to struggle in the spotlight with a state tournament berth on the line. Aptos started four freshman and other than junior standout outside hitter Jenna Belton, who had a match-high 12 kills, struggled to sustain a consistent attack.
“We were not mentally there,” said Aptos head coach David Faz. “I don’t know if they where overwhelmed, but we never got to playing Aptos volleyball.”