LA CAÑADA – A magical season that included a league championship, postseason success and crosstown bragging rights ended for the La Cañada High girls’ volleyball team Saturday afternoon.
The upset-minded Spartans battled, but ultimately did not break through against visiting No. 3 seed Santa Monica in a 25-21, 25-20, 25-9 loss in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division IV playoffs.
La Cañada ended its season with a 22-7 mark that included a victory over city rival Flintridge Sacred Heart and the program’s first outright Rio Hondo League title and first quarterfinal appearance since 2012.
“I love this team and they’re such a cohesive unit,” La Cañada coach Chris Sullivan said. “They just ran into a really good team. Santa Monica just dug everything that we threw at them and that’s why they’re moving on.”
While Ocean League runner-up Santa Monica (17-6) certainly boasted a robust and deep offense, it was the Vikings’ defense that was most problematic for La Cañada.
The Spartans rode the right arm of senior Chloe Kerstein through playoff victories over Burbank (3-0) and Rio Mesa (3-2).
The outside hitter combined for 34 kills in those victories and tallied four kills in the first set Saturday.
Santa Monica adjusted with a double-block against Kerstein, which held the senior to eight kills for the contest and simultaneously forced La Cañada to involve other scorers.
The rest of the Spartans combined for 15 kills in three sets with sophomore outside hitter Emily Weirick and sophomore middle blocker Claire Kevorkian tallying five each.
“Honestly, that team was very scrappy and it’s tough to play scrappy teams because they keep the rallies going,” said La Cañada senior libero Elizabeth Gannon, who finished with 22 digs. “They just kept the momentum on their side and it was hard to keep it up on our side.”
La Cañada’s came closest to taking a set in the first game.
The Spartans led, 5-1, but surrendered their advantage via a 9-2 run capped on a block from Santa Monica’s Jaclyn Zakharian (five kills, two aces and two blocks).
La Cañada fell behind, 18-13, before two kills from Kevorkian and one from Weirick brought the home squad within 18-16.
Santa Monica pushed back with four straight points culminated on a kill from Veronica Johnson, who finished with 10 kills and four aces, to take an insurmountable 22-16 advantage.
The Vikings won the set, 25-21, on one of seven service errors by La Cañada.
“We had some consistency errors that hurt us and that was maybe the difference,” Kerstein said. “We were hitting against a really good block and good defense.”
In the second set, the Spartans rallied from a 13-9 deficit with four straight points to tie.
Just when the crowd got into the game, Santa Monica pushed back with six straight points, two from Sofie Major (10 kills and four aces), to vault back ahead 19-13 en route to a 25-20 win.
In the final set, Santa Monica just overpowered La Cañada in scoring 16 of the game’s first 20 points and eventually winning 25-9.
Even with the loss, there was some satisfaction for at least one of the five seniors on the squad in setter Hailey Belcher, who finished with 25 assists.
“I think just coming from a past where it was just tough for us to win, winning means a lot more,” said Belcher, whose sophomore and junior squads combined to finish 22-33. “It just shows that our hard work throughout the years has paid off.”