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Glendale Adventist girls’ volleyball rallies into first-ever championship match

CANOGA PARK – Through three rounds of postseason dominance, the Glendale Adventist Academy girls’ volleyball team faced only slight resistance in sweeping all three matches.

With the school’s first berth to a CIF Southern Section championship match in any sport up for grabs, the top-seeded Cougars were pushed and battered by fourth-seeded host Canoga Park Faith Baptist in Tuesday evening’s semifinals of the Division IX playoffs.

Yet, Glendale Adventist showed a resiliency that hadn’t been needed through a historic playoff run as the Cougars rallied to defeat the Contenders, 19-25, 25-21, 15-25, 25-16, 15-13.

The triumph sends Glendale Adventist (21-5) into the Division IX championship versus Santa Clarita Christian (19-6), which has defeated No. 2 Rancho Christian and No. 3 Mammoth this postseason.

The match will be played Friday or Saturday at Cerritos College. The CIF office will announce the schedule Wednesday at 1 p.m.

Before then, however, there was celebration and reflection Tuesday evening.

“This team has been four years in the making,” Glendale Adventist coach Gared Luquet said. “We’ve put a lot on this team since many of its players were freshmen. Each year, we competed, but we just didn’t get close enough. Now, we’ve been through the battles.

“I had 100% confidence that we could win this game. We’ve battled and we lost so much and have come back.”

Leave it to a freshman to lead the charge for the Cougars as outside hitter Elyse Knipschild paced her squad with 19 kills and four blocks, with five kills coming in the fifth set.

Glendale Adventist trailed, 5-2, in the fifth set to Heritage League champion Faith Baptist (17-7) when a pair of kills from Knipschild brought the Cougars within one.

Faith Baptist rallied from a 9-7 hole with four straight points, but this time senior Paige Singleton propelled the comeback with two of her 15 kills as Glendale Adventist tied it at 11.

Glendale scored three of the next four points to hit match-point, 14-12, on a kill from Knipschild.

After a Cougars’ attacking error brought the Contenders within one point, Knipschild secured her team’s championship ticket with a cross-court kill for an emotional 15-13 fifth-set triumph.

“Honestly, this is just too much,” Knipschild said nearly in tears. “I don’t know what to do or say, I’m still shaking. To come in here, to come back after playing bad [in the third set], it’s incredible.”

One of Glendale’s unsung heroes was setter Liana Salvador, who finished with 44 assists, five aces and four kills.

Salvador’s serving was key.

Glendale Adventist was hammered, 25-15, in an error-prone third set and was on the ropes in the fourth when the Cougars rallied and pulled even at 15 on a kill from Singleton.

The spike brought Salvador to serve and the setter delivered two aces in a pivotal 5-0 run that put the Cougars ahead, 19-15, en route to a 25-16 victory.

Two sets earlier, Salvador helped her team even the series at 1 after dropping the first game, 25-19.

A kill from Singleton gave Glendale a 20-18 advantage and was followed by three straight aces from Salvador, who gave her squad an insurmountable 23-18 lead and eventual 25-21 victory.

“We felt like this was our last chance and we had to do everything we could,” Salvador said. “I was just trying to keep it on the court and not out of bounds.”

Glendale Adventist weathered a strong effort from Faith Baptist 5-foot-11 junior Lily Karamanukyan, who towered at middle hitter and finished with 19 kills and six blocks.

andrew.campa@latimes.com

Twitter @campadresports

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