LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — After the roller-coaster, five-game thriller that took place the last time the La Cañada and South Pasadena high girls' volleyball teams met, both sides expected a tightly-contested battle knowing full well a Rio Hondo League championship could hang in the balance.
It was a strong start for the Spartans, who had seniors Micaela Anderson and Katie Pierce back in the lineup this time around, that put the Tigers in a two-game hole and proved too daunting to overcome in a 25-13, 25-16, 29-31, 25-17 La Cañada victory at home.
"We just weren't going to take them lightly," said Anderson, who finished with a match-high 22 kills and five blocks and saw fellow outside hitter Kendall Walbrecht finish with 21 kills. "We knew we had to work hard because we knew they were going to come out fired up. It was basically for a league title."
The victory gives the Spartans (10-8, 6-0 in league) a two-game lead over the Tigers (9-3, 4-2 in league) in the Rio Hondo standings more than halfway through the league season. La Cañada will need to win two of its final four matches against Monrovia, Blair, San Marino and Temple City to wrap up a share of its 10th straight league crown and 22nd overall.
Tuesday was a far cry from the 25-22, 21-25, 25-14, 19-25, 16-14 nailbiter La Cañada eked out at South Pasadena Sept. 27 with Anderson and Pierce out with injuries.
"I did expect a tight match," South Pasadena Coach Ben Diaz said. "In my eyes, I feel like every game we can win. I don't coach to lose. If they don't do what they have to do, if they're not disciplined they're not going to win, it doesn't matter who you play.
"My core didn't come out to play. ... They're not very mature yet, they don't know how to play in tight games and that's something they have to learn."
The Tigers managed to keep the first two games close early on, but never really got rolling until the third frame, which they opened with a 6-1 run. The Tigers increased their advantage to six, 19-13, before the Spartans pulled back into contention with a 6-1 run and eventually took their first lead of the game, 24-23, on another 4-0 charge.
"In game three, I am proud they hung in until the end," said La Cañada Coach Brock Turner, who lost starting senior libero Madison Teodo for the season when she was selected as one of six princesses on Tournament of Roses 2013 Royal Court on Oct. 8. "South Pas is a decent team so I knew they're not going to give it away and I knew they were fired up."
Facing match point, South Pasadena got consecutive kills from Samantha Figueroa (10 kills) and Claire Kieffer-Wright (nine kills, five blocks) to go up, 25-24. Both sides had trouble putting the game away, as it featured ties at 26, 27, 28 and 29. The Tigers answered with their backs against the wall again — down 29-28 — and won the third game, 31-29, with three straight points coming on a kill from Sophia Hathaway (12 kills), an ace from Kieffer-Wright and a La Cañada hitting error.
Once again, South Pasadena kept the fourth game close early on, forcing five ties in the early stages before the Spartans used a 8-1 run to take a 15-9 lead. The Tigers cut to within three, 16-13, but Walbrecht notched consecutive kills to restore a healthy lead. Two of the Spartans' final four points came on two Anderson kills, including the match winner.
"I knew [the Tigers] weren't going to lose without a fight," Anderson said. "I told the girls before the fourth game, 'We need to come out with momentum and just not take them lightly.' We need to nip this in the bud kind of thing, we need to come out strong."
The key to the match was La Cañada's ability to put the match all but out of reach in the first two games, something it hasn't been able to do consistently this year.
"Normally we'll come out weak and hang on, maybe win by two, but this one was good with the momentum," Turner said. "As you get toward the end of the season this is a good thing."
Up just one, 9-8, in the first game, the Spartans used a 10-2 run to take a commanding lead en route to a 25-13 victory with Anderson logging the final six points for La Cañada on kills. It was a similar story in the second game, as the Spartans used a 9-2 charge to jump out to a 19-11 lead. It was Walbrecht who closed out the frame for La Cañada with three of its final three points coming on her kills.