Newport Harbor girls’ volleyball beats Fountain Valley, eyes strong finish to Sunset League

Given the proud tradition of volleyball at Newport Harbor High, it can take one by surprise that the girls’ volleyball program has not experienced a winning season since 2012.

That streak will be extended into next season, but it appears that the Sailors have finally put their dismal start behind them.

Granted, it was a tough schedule. The early portion of the season saw the Sailors take on three teams currently residing inside of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 rankings (Long Beach Poly, Harvard-Westlake, and Corona del Mar).

Sailors coach Dan Glenn said he has no plans to make adjustments to the schedule. His Newport Harbor team is benefiting from being battle-tested right now.

Vivian Donovan had 12 kills and two total blocks to lead the host Sailors over Fountain Valley, 25-22, 25-13, 25-16, on Wednesday night in a critical Sunset League bout.

Although it is not currently well-represented in the CIF-SS rankings, the Sunset League is recognized as one of Orange County’s top volleyball conferences.

Before the start of league, the Sailors’ record was such that a playoff spot was considered a lost cause. Huntington Beach, Edison, and Los Alamitos occupy the top three spots in the league, as they were predicted to do so, but Newport nearly denied that prophecy last week.

The Sailors (4-14, 2-3) took the Griffins the distance, leading 12-9 in the fifth set before Los Alamitos rallied to win it, 16-14.

That match, combined with wins over Marina and Fountain Valley (10-10, 1-4), has Newport Harbor believing in a dream.

“We’re kind of stressing that this year, one of our goals is to have a better record in the second round [of league] than we did the first,” Glenn said. “If we have a better record in the second round than we did the first, then we would have a playoff game or we would be in the playoffs.

“That’s kind of where we’re at right now. We’re still in the hunt, but every one of these league games is basically a playoff game for us.”

Oddly enough, it was not first-place Huntington Beach or defending state champion Edison getting the nod in this week’s CIF-SS polls. That honor went to Fountain Valley, which was among those receiving consideration to enter the top 10 in Division 2.

Newport Harbor captured the first set against the Barons, 25-22. Donovan was in rhythm right away, registering six kills in the opening game.

Phoebe Minch went toe-to-toe with Donovan for the Barons. She had six kills in the first set and 11 for the match (she also had three blocks), but the Barons got little offense elsewhere.

Fountain Valley was not as big as other opponents the Sailors had seen, allowing Newport Harbor to play most of the points in an offensive posture.

As a team, the Sailors recorded nine blocks. Delaney DeCinces led the block party with 2½ rejections. Kendall Bagby, Allison Crandell, Jordan Fiskin, and Donovan also joined in.

DeCinces handed out 27 assists, making it a busy night on defense for Fountain Valley’s Mia Lara and Rachel Lucie (19 digs).

“I felt like we were able to take care of passing, and I was able to distribute the ball to [my hitters], which we haven’t been able to do,” DeCinces said. “I think the key for our team is if we set the middles, we’re going to win some games.”

Crandell had seven kills, and freshman Ava Gonzalez had five kills and an ace in the third set alone.

“She is really progressing,” Donovan said of Gonzalez. “I think her staying outside and also continuing to work and play right side when [Glenn] wants us to switch is going well.

“I know she was panicked during the match, but she did really well being able to be versatile.”

Newport Harbor will visit Edison on Friday.

Andrew.Turner@latimes.com

Twitter: @ProfessorTurner

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