All Ball Sports: Mira Costa girls VB find redemption against Sierra Canyon. One win away from State Championships

Outside hitter Tanon Rosenthal and her Mustang teammates are one win away from the State Championship finals. Photo by Ray Vidal

by Paul Teetor

Last Saturday night the Mira Costa girls volleyball team fell one match short of its season-long goal of winning a CIF championship when Sierra Canyon laid a three-set sweep on them in the CIF Finals.

Now that the shock of that shattering loss has at least partially worn off, they may have to settle for a state championship.

The Mustangs saved their postseason hopes of doing something memorable Saturday night by paying Sierra Canyon back with a thrilling 5-set win in the Southern Section Regional semifinals – at Sierra Canyon.

Their reward for such an inspiring road win? They now have to play the top-ranked team in the country, Cathedral Catholic, Tuesday night in San Diego.

Coach Cam Green said that after everything his 38-4 team has been through this season, they are not fazed at all to be playing a team with a 40-0 record.

“I don’t think they’ve played anyone as good as us,” he said 24 hours after beating Sierra Canyon. “After losing in the CIF Finals, now we have a chance to do something really special. To win state would be a very big deal for us.”

If they win Tuesday night, they would then play the winner of the Northern Section Regional Final at Santiago College for the state championship.

Green was still feeling the buzz from the victory over Sierra Canyon as he talked about how the Mustangs shocked all the experts. After all, Sierra Canyon had already beaten Costa two out of the three times they had played this year. And the game was being played on the Trailblazers home court, a huge advantage – especially when you consider the long bus trip his team had to take and the raucous home crowd they would be facing.

“The girls were really fired up last night,” he said. “I first noticed it on the bus trip.”

Some of that fire could have been doused when Sierra Canyon won the first set by 28-26 – the exact same score of the first set in the CIF Finals sweep.

But instead of a “here we go again” feeling, Green said his team – and especially its leaders, setter Charlie Fuerbringer, outside hitter Drew Wright and opposite Tanon Rosenthal – took the first set loss in stride and quickly bounced back. 

“It was the same score as the first set of the CIF Finals, but it didn’t feel the same,” he said. “It was just a lot of good volleyball being played on both sides. Neither team took a big lead, and they pulled it out in the end.”

Green said he remained confident because his girls were playing at a high level, something that wasn’t true in the CIF Finals. Indeed, in the days after that shattering loss, many of the Mustangs admitted they had been overwhelmed by the moment.

“That CIF loss was on a big stage, so in a strange way it was a good thing for us to go through it,” he said. “It was a tough lesson to learn, but this time our attitude was different, our confidence level was different. We talk to them all the time about establishing a flow, with everyone doing their job. And suddenly it all kicked in.”

Indeed, with Fuerbringer’s breezy, no worries, let’s go tone spreading among her teammates, the Mustangs roared back to take the second set by 25-19.

“It’s crazy, but it just felt like that was going to happen after we lost the first set,” Green said. “I was so impressed with their attitude, that they were not going to stress about anything.”

Having seized the momentum, the Mustangs kept it going in the third set and posted a 25-18 victory with all the familiar elements working together: Fuerbringer using her advanced court sense to set up Wright and Rosenthal for their Scud Missile kills, and Libero Taylor Deckert coming up with diving dig after diving dig.

But in the fourth set Sierra Canyon’s 6-foot-4 star opposite Olivia Babcock – “she’s the best opposite we faced all year,” Green said – took over and led the Trailblazers to a 25-23 victory, setting up a climactic fifth set for the right to play in the regional finals.

“Babcock went on a tear. We just could not stop her,” he said. “We knew after that fourth set that every point was going to be a battle.”

But now Sierra Canyon had the momentum, and they raced out to a 5-1 lead – bigger than it seems because the fifth set is the first to 15, not 25.

“We tied it at 6-6, but then they went up 9-6,” Green said. “Finally, we went on a run and went up 12-9.”

At 14-13 up, the Mustangs had their first match point. 

“During a time out late in the fifth set I told Charlie and Drew that a certain play was open with the way Sierra Canyon was playing their defense,” Green said. “We’d never run it all season, but this felt like the right play at the right time.”

The Mustangs ran it to perfection and the point – and the match – ended with Wright soaring high above the net to launch one of her trademark cross-court kills.

On Sunday Green was already planning his strategy for playing a team with an unblemished 40-0 record. “Our goal will be to put a lot of pressure on them by winning the first set,” he said. “I don’t think they’ve lost a set all year.”                                                     


Follow: @paulteetor


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