The returners on the Sage Hill School girls’ volleyball team have come back with a lot of experience.
Sage Hill advanced to the semifinals of the CIF State Southern California Regional Division II tournament last season, but the Lightning are finding out that playoff experience alone will not lead to success this year.
A key piece from the 2017 team graduated in Academy League MVP Jade Blevins, a setter who signed with Cal in April.
The Lightning have scrambled to fill the position, with junior Danielle Beder transitioning from opposite to become the primary setter.
On Tuesday night, the struggles of learning new positions showed. Sage Hill got off to a slow start at home against visiting Trabuco Hills, which earned a 25-11, 25-18, 24-26, 25-22 nonleague win.
“She’s been doing really well,” Lightning coach Dan Thomassen said of Beder. “It didn’t show tonight in a large portion of the match, but when our passing’s a little bit off and you have some new setters, it definitely can snowball. That’s what happened early. Our passing just wasn’t as crisp. [The Mustangs are] a really good serving team, and they were really aggressive.
“That’s one of our strengths usually, but we got pushed tonight, and it showed our weaknesses. We’ve got to be more disciplined passing.”
When the Mustangs (7-2) established an 18-10 lead in the second set, it appeared that Thomassen had seen enough. He called timeout, and he was animated in the huddle.
“I’ve had other tough coaches, as well,” Lightning senior outside hitter Sydnee Francis said. “It was definitely eye-opening, and coming from [Thomassen], it was definitely something that we needed to take into consideration.
“It’s hard to make him mad, but when he gets mad, it’s time to step it up and play our game.”
Thomassen said that he was just trying to fire up his team, saying, “I wanted to send a message for what they should expect from themselves and what we expect as coaches. I just thought we were pretty complacent, and we got a little bit better after that.”
Sage Hill (2-8) rallied to take the third set, with Amiyah De’Long providing the set-ending kill. De’Long had a match-high 14 kills.
In Game 4, Beder reverted back to her natural position of opposite, with Zoe Stern (12 assists) taking over the setting duties. Sage Hill threatened to send the match the distance, but the Mustangs were the steadier team in the closing points.
“I thought we did a really good job of passing, and our serve receive was really good,” Mustangs setter Kelly Negron said. “We did a pretty good job, and we never gave up.”
Negron had 30 assists and three service aces to lead Trabuco Hills. Hannah Bevan had a team-high eight kills, and Jenna Walsh and Makenna Martin each had seven kills.
Francis had 10 kills, 12 digs and three aces. Beder finished with 13 assists, three kills, three aces and 1½ blocks. Emily Elliott added five kills, one block and an ace.
As a junior, Francis showed an uncanny ability to put an attacking swing on the ball from anywhere on the court. She exhibited another skill with her back-row defense on Tuesday.
“For club season, I was actually a [defensive specialist], so I got a lot of practice back row to be able to serve receive and to dig,” Francis said. “It’s really fun. I love playing back row.”
Despite a slow start to the season, Thomassen sees signs that his team will turn it around.