NORWALK – For the first time in school history, Glendale Adventist Academy can call itself a CIF Southern Section champion.
The top-seeded girls' volleyball team stamped its name into history with a 25-13, 24-26, 25-18, 25-21 victory over Santa Clarita Christian School in the Division IX title match at Cerritos College on Friday morning.
Glendale Adventist (22-5) won its school's first-ever title in the inaugural championship match appearance for the academy, which will continue its postseason march in Wednesday's first round of the CIF State playoffs.
Yet, thoughts of a state playoff drive were lost in a big celebration.
"There was a lot more pressure here today because of the stage than at any other point during the playoffs," Glendale Adventist coach Gared Luquet said. "We may have had more difficult matches earlier, but this is the biggest stage and we've never been here before.
"I'm so proud of these girls and how they performed. Everyone played to their potential and some went above."
Glendale Adventist received some memorable efforts.
Freshman outside hitter Elyse Knipschild led all scorers with 24 kills, 14 digs and two blocks, while senior outside hitter Paige Singleton tallied 18 kills and 19 digs.
Libero Camille Pizarro finished with 19 digs for Glendale Adventist, while setter Liana Salvador contributed 44 assists, 11 digs and three aces and Kristine Nicolas added 15 digs.
Knipschild had a hand in just about every big Cougars' surge, as the ninth-grader scored the match's first point, hit the set-winning ace in the first game and closed out the victory in the fourth set with a kill.
Glendale Adventist pulled ahead, 16-15, in the fourth set on a Cardinals' hitting error and never looked back.
Santa Clarita Christian (19-7) hung around and pulled within 18-16 on a kill from senior outside hitter Kaloma Marr (12 kills and 28 digs).
Knipschild pushed back with a kill and Glendale Adventist jumped to a 24-19 advantage thanks to three kills from Singleton.
A kill from the Cardinals' Aaronya Crosswhite (team-leading 16 kills and 12 digs) and a Cougars' attacking error gave Santa Clarita Christian life as the visitors pulled within 24-21.
The two points only built the anticipation when Knipschild closed out with a back-row spike that claimed Glendale Adventist its first championship.
"I'm so happy for the seniors on this team; we had to send them out winners," Knipschild said. "They've been through so much and have been so close before and I love them. I think we all thought we could win today and we just believed in ourselves."
Glendale Adventist rallied from a 2-1 deficit at Canoga Park Faith Baptist for a 3-2 victory in Tuesday's semifinal and carried that momentum into Friday's early 9 a.m. start.
Conversely, Santa Clarita Christian played sluggish in an impressive 25-13 first-set victory for Glendale Adventist fueled by eight kills and an ace from Knipschild.
Glendale Adventist was on the cusp of victory in the second set, up 22-21, when Santa Clarita Christian pulled ahead, 24-23, on a kill from Marr.
Though a Knipschild kill tied the set at 24, a Glendale hitting error coupled with an ace from Vanessa Garcia gave the Cardinals a come-from-behind 26-24 triumph in the second set.
As for the third set, both teams traded big runs as Glendale's 10-5 lead was wiped way via a 7-0 push from Santa Clarita Christian, which took a 12-10 lead on a kill from Julia Phillipps.
Glendale Adventist responded with an 8-2 spurt to go ahead, 18-14.
This time, Singleton carried Glendale Adventist.
Just as Santa Clarita Christian pulled within 21-18, the senior tallied three of her team's final four points via kills to finish off a 25-19 victory.
"For four years, the seniors worked very hard to get here and made it here, but we just didn't make it, we won it," Singleton said. "I know we have state next, but I'm just so excited for this. This was the goal and the dream."
Glendale Adventist's championship roster includes Andrea Blay, Natalie Gregg, Gabriela Diaz, Mabel Banuelos, Sively Parra, Dominica Bustos and Melody Coronell. Luquet was assisted by Sabrina Shahbanden.