RIVERSIDE - An unexpectedly wild and successful postseason run for the La Cañada High girls’ volleyball team ended a match sooner than the Spartans had wished.
The Rio Hondo League champions commenced with an opening-set victory only to drop the next three games and a CIF Southern Section Division II-AA semifinal match to Big VIII League second-seeded host Martin Luther King, 19-25, 25-19, 25-17, 25-17, on Tuesday evening.
With the defeat, La Cañada capped its season with a 19-12 record and the program’s farthest postseason advancement since 2009, while King (25-7) qualified to its first championship match, on Saturday, in program history.
"King was a great team, with some great serve-receive passing and played with a lot more energy than we did after the first game," said Spartans senior Micaela Anderson, who led her team with 18 kills. "In the end, they just had too many players who were unstoppable."
The Spartans stayed close with the Wolves in the fourth game, trailing, 9-6, after a La Cañada centerline violation, and managed to keep the deficit between three to four points.
That was, however, until 14-11, when a kill from La Cañada’s Katie Pierce was followed by a Spartans attacking error and a kill from King’s Jessica Chase (15 kills) as the Wolves took a 16-11 lead.
Match momentum, which had been up for grabs, swung sharply toward King on the following possession when Chase connected on a kill that ended an over 15-attack rally in which both teams desperately fought for the point.
"It was little things like that that we had to win," Spartans Coach Brock Turner said. "For our confidence, that would have been huge."
The kill was part of a 5-1 run that put the Wolves ahead, 19-12. King eventually clinched its finals berth on ace from standout 6-foot-2 junior opposite Kalei Greeley, who led all scorers with 22 kills.
The Wolves’ mini-run served as their calling card the entire evening, as King settled for small, but critical, rallies rather than longer, more poignant runs.
Such was the case in the third game, when King put away a close 18-14 contest with a timely 4-1 run capped by a brilliant block from senior Mia Maddott (seven kills).
In the second game, King created separation midway when a 14-11 advantage blossomed into a 19-12 lead thanks to a 5-1 spurt highlighted by a pair of aces from Greeley.
"I don’t know what the turning point was, we just seemed to lose our momentum in each game," said Spartans sophomore libero Loren Shin, who finished with 32 digs. "We started off strong, but we couldn’t finish."
La Cañada delivered a spirited blow to King’s prospects in the first game in scoring 10 of the first 15 points in jumping out to a five-point advantage thanks to two kills from senior Kendall Walbrecht (16 kills) and a block and kill from senior Lauren Streeter.
The Spartans eventually took their biggest advantage of 20-13 before King scored the next five points in pulling within two.
Anderson broke the Wolves’ run with consecutive kills and the Spartans closed out with a 25-19 win, which turned out to be their final victory.
"I’m proud of this team and what it was able to accomplish," said Anderson, whose Spartans advanced to the semifinals after an upset of fourth-seeded Oaks Christian on Saturday. "I’m not sure how many people thought we’d be here, but here we were."