SAN MARINO - With the champion of the Rio Hondo League already crowned after the La Cañada High girls' volleyball team won its 10th straight Tuesday, San Marino clearly had more to play for Thursday when it hosted the Spartans on their senior day in the hunt for the runner-up spot in league.
Don't tell La Cañada that, though, as it won the first two games to take control of the match and rebounded after losing the third game for a four-game victory, 25-17, 25-20, 23-25, 25-16, which extended its league-winning streak to 67 matches.
"We always have something on the line," said La Cañada senior middle blocker Lauren Streeter, who had three of her eight kills and a block in the clinching game. "We have our perfect record on the line and our reputation on the line. There's always something on the line, even if we're set for first place."
The Titans started slow, but built up steam as the match went on and really gave the Spartans trouble in the final three games.
La Cañada Coach Brock Turner said his team has always seemed to struggle at San Marino.
"It's always been a weird history coming in here, not losing but just a different vibe," said Turner, whose team improved to 13-8, 9-0 in league. "We always catch them on a senior day. They're playing for second place, better position in CIF, but when people say, 'Well, La Cañada has nothing to lose' - yeah we do. We can lose the game."
Amanda Yee, the San Marino setter, attributed the slow start to Tuesday's emotional four-game victory over league-rival South Pasadena, which kept the Titans in the hunt for second place in league.
"It was a really emotionally-packed game and I think it took a lot out of us so it took us awhile to get into it," said Yee, who finished with 28 assists, six kills and two aces.
A win over La Cañada would have kept the Titans (15-7, 5-3 in league) in the thick of the second-place race, but now they'll need a victory at Blair Monday and Monrovia (17-8, 5-4) to defeat South Pasadena, which would have improved to 11-4, 6-3 in league with a win over Temple City Thursday, to finish behind La Cañada in the league standings.
"It looks like we're going to need a little luck to finish second," San Marino Coach Gordon Anderson said. "We're going to need Monrovia to beat South Pas. . If South Pas beats Monrovia we finish in third solidly and if Monrovia beats South Pas we finish in a three-way tie for second, but I think we have the tiebreakers [over the Wildcats]. We are definitely going to the playoffs."
With the second game tied at 10, the Spartans used a 9-2 run that included five straight points and two aces with Taylor Page serving to give them a 19-12 advantage. San Marino countered with a 5-1 spurt to pull within three, 20-17, and stayed within striking distance, 23-20, on kills from Mabel Cootauco (eight kills) and one from Kelly Truong (five kills).
A kill from Kendall Walbrecht (20 kills) gave the Spartans game point and a San Marino hitting error clinched the game, while Walbrecht tallied three of La Cañada's final five points on kills.
La Cañada saw a 6-2 lead disappear in the third game, as San Marino tied it at 7. There were 13 ties and seven lead changes overall in the frame. The Spartans used a three-point run on a kill and ace from Walbrecht and another kill from Micaela Anderson, who finished with a match-high 21, to go up two, 23-21.
San Marino called a timeout and saw La Cañada's run snapped on a service error. The Titans didn't give back momentum in the game. Cassidy Mace (26 digs, five kills) tallied consecutive kills to force game point and San Marino wrapped up the game on a Spartans hitting error.
Gordon Anderson called a timeout with San Marino trailing, 23-21, in the frame and told his team, "There's nothing to lose, just believe in yourselves."
"We just came out with that mentality," Yee said. "We know La Cañada has won year after year after year, so we thought we should just do the best we can and see what happens."
The Spartans were clearly frustrated in their huddle following the third game after San Marino's home crowd erupted with the win.
"We were all pretty mad," Streeter said. "The same thing happened last year where it was their senior night and we'd already won league and we really, really didn't want that to happen again. We talked in practice how we weren't going to let it happen again so it was pretty tense [in the huddle]. We were all really ready to just finish the game and go home."
The Titans were dealt a tough blow in the fourth game when their senior captain and libero Felita Salim hit her head trying to dig a ball and came out of the game with concussion-like symptoms. San Marino had just three available substitutes from that point on and put freshman setter Nicole Wang, who filled in nicely, in at libero.
"She's our captain and the heart of the sole of our team," San Marino's Anderson said of Salim. "[Wang had] never played libero before but I think the team rallied around her, but it's still hard without Felita. I think she's the best libero in our league."
The final frame was tightly contested early on, as both teams played to five ties and four lead changes until La Cañada's Anderson notched consecutive kills to give the Spartans a 12-10 lead. They continued to build on the lead on a kill from Katie Pierce (seven kills) and ace from Taylor Page, 14-11, and really forced the issue with a 6-1 run highlighted by two Streeter kills and a kill and a block from Walbrecht.
The match was sealed on three unforced errors - with the clincher coming on a San Marino hitting error - and another Walbrecht kill.
Down, 20-10, in the opener, the Titans cut the deficit to five, 22-17, but lost on a 3-0 run fueled by two unforced errors and a game-clinching ace from Anderson.