Sage Hill girls' volleyball beats Saddleback Valley Christian

Sage Hill School's Zoe Mazakas (5) blocks a shot by Saddleback Valley Christian's Kendall Reineeke (15) during the second set of a nonleague match on Tuesday. (Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

The Sage Hill School girls’ volleyball team had six losses in its first week.

That trip to the Ann Kang Invitational in Hawaii was hardly a vacation, and the same applied to the nonleague schedule once the Lightning returned back home.

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Before Sage Hill could find its footing as a team, its record had dropped to 2-9 overall.

Through it all, the Lightning remained confident that they would turn it around, and they have.

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Senior outside hitter Sydnee Francis had a match-high 20 kills, as the host Lightning won their fourth straight match with a 25-16, 25-27, 25-17, 25-18 win over Saddleback Valley Christian in a San Joaquin League match on Tuesday night.

“Even though we lost a few matches early, I think our girls understood the big picture that we’re playing tough matches, that we’re a good team, and that we were going to get better quickly,” Lightning coach Dan Thomassen said.

Amiyah De’Long added 19 kills for the Lightning (6-9, 2-0 in league).

For Sage Hill, Francis and De’Long represent the familiar and the stable. The seniors helped to propel the Lightning to the CIF State Southern California Regional Division II semifinals last year.

Moreover, the outside hitter duo gives the Lightning difference-makers, with Thomassen making the comment that they manage to make plays even when everyone in the gym knows where the ball is going.

Still, the Lightning had moving parts, most notably, the loss of recent graduate and Academy League MVP Jade Blevins (Cal).

Junior Danielle Beder, previously an opposite, replaced Blevins at setter. Nearly halfway through the season, Beder looks acclimated to her new position. She had 36 assists, five service aces and two blocks against the Warriors (6-10, 0-2).

“Someone really needed to take a leap of faith to start a new position,” Beder said. “I thought, ‘Hey, why not? I’m not going to do it any other time in club.’

“I always loved setting in the gym, so I just thought, ‘Why not? Just do something new.’ It turned out to be really fun, and I enjoy it a lot.”

Sage Hill School's Emily Elliott (8) scores against Saddleback Valley Christian's Vanessa Taylor (16) in the second set on Tuesday. (Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Junior middle blocker Zoe Mazakas returned from a torn ACL that she suffered in the season-opening CdM Tip-off tournament for girls’ basketball. Mazakas made her season debut against Laguna Beach on Aug. 30.

Nine months removed from the injury, Mazakas is playing in key moments. She had the kill that clinched Game 1 for the Lightning on Tuesday.

“It was really hard,” Mazakas said of her recovery process. “I put a lot of hard work into it. I think mentally, it was just the biggest struggle. I was really upset that I couldn’t be on the court with my team, but obviously, I was there in spirit.

“I was always there supporting them, and all the love and support from all my friends and family and coaches helped a lot.”

Mazakas wanted to get back to her on-court family, and right now, the Lightning resemble that. During the break between the first and second sets, the girls huddled in small groups, smiling and laughing.

“Everyone’s there to support each other and just be there for each other, for the high moments and the lows,” Sage Hill sophomore opposite Emily Elliott said. “I think it’s just a very family kind of vibe, on the court and off.”

Elliott had begun her career as a middle blocker, but she moved out to the right side and unleashed some big swings against the Warriors.

JSerra transfer Kylie Pries had nine kills, nine digs and three aces to lead the Warriors. Kendall Reinecke added eight kills and five blocks, and Hailey Park chipped in with 11 digs.

“We’re working on getting her even more comfortable over there where she can hit it to different places and hit some off-speed shots,” Thomassen said of Elliott. “She’s going to get a lot better both in the middle and at the opposite.

“She’s going to be playing both positions because she’s good at them both. We’ve just got to be able to set her because she’s one of our big guns.”

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