Many of Southern California’s high school sports teams began their seasons two weeks ago.
The Huntington Beach girls’ volleyball team did not play its first match of the season until Friday, when it lost a five-setter at home to Dana Hills.
Perhaps the schedule will prove beneficial, as Oilers coach Craig Pazanti has had more time to work with a young roster. The Oilers brought back just two starters in their same position in sophomore middle blocker Olivia Carlton and junior libero Mia Christensen.
The Oilers have not had many matches under their belt, but in just their third match of the season, they showed the fight that has been emblematic of Pazanti’s most successful teams in the Sunset League.
Huntington Beach rallied late for a 25-19, 24-26, 23-25, 25-22, 15-8 victory to lead off the Sunset League vs. Trinity League Showcase on Wednesday night at Edison High.
Down 21-18 in the fourth set, the Oilers mounted a rally, using tenacious defense to spur the comeback. Huntington Beach extended points, and the budding Carlton had back-to-back kills late in the set to send the match to a final set.
“It was a lot of hard work,” Christensen said. “Just who wants the ball up more, who wants to win, who wants to score the point.
“I think we put in more effort, by the end, than they did.”
The Oilers (2-1) dug themselves out of a hole, but their size also impacted the match. Huntington Beach recorded 16 blocks as a team.
Carlton led the Oilers with 17 kills and 6½ blocks.
“I love it,” Carlton said of playing in the Oilers’ front row. “It’s so fun. I love just getting a solid block straight down. It’s my favorite thing ever.”
Xolani Hodel had nine kills, six service aces and five blocks for Huntington Beach. Sierra Emil added eight kills and three blocks, and Sabrina Phinizy chipped in with 11 kills.
“Olivia’s been great,” Pazanti said. “She’s had 16-plus kills out of the middle in all three matches, which is pretty insane being that they are triple-blocking her almost every single time.”
The high kill totals for a middle blocker have impressed Pazanti, but he knows at least one of the secrets to that success. Junior setter Jaclyn Sanchez, a first-time starter after the graduation of Cristina Baily, played club volleyball with Carlton for Club H.
“I had the pleasure of coaching those two together, so we were building that relationship during the club season,” Pazanti said. “For Olivia to be doing what she’s doing as a sophomore right now is pretty great.”
Sanchez’s older sisters, Jordyn and Camryn, also played for the Huntington Beach volleyball program.
“I feel like that whole family just has a lot of skill, so it’s fun working with her and playing with her all the time,” Carlton said of being set by Jaclyn Sanchez.
Sanchez had 40 assists and 1½ blocks against the Lions (2-3).
Senior outside hitter Shayne Francisco had 15 kills to lead JSerra, while Peyton Dewers added 12 kills. Jenessa Wenskunas had 11 kills and four blocks, Madison Kelly had seven kills and seven blocks, and Caitlin Mueller finished with a match-high 51 assists.
Huntington Beach will play in the Dave Mohs Memorial Championships on Friday and Saturday. The Oilers are in a pool with San Juan Hills and Orange Lutheran, which will be played out at Huntington Beach High. Pazanti said the tournament will be good for his youthful group.