The Bellarmine-Jefferson High girls' volleyball team faced losing its first Santa Cruz League match in six years when it faced St. Anthony on Oct. 11. A loss would have also put a dent in the Guards' quest to capture a seventh straight league championship.
The teams battled in a grueling match that went to a fifth game. The Guards were finally able to pull out a victory, getting by the host Saints, 25-20, 23-25, 25-21, 22-25, 15-13.
Bell-Jeff would have likely lost the game if it wasn’t for the play of senior outside hitter Taryn Nelson. Nelson stepped up big time, pounding down 27 kills to go along with 18 digs and four aces.
“She did that all season,” Bell-Jeff Coach Miguel Segura said. “So many times she just picked us up and carried us on her back.”
Nelson’s exploits weren’t lost on the other Santa Fe League coaches, as they voted her the league’s player of the year.
Nelson was one of five Guards players to earn all-league honors. Senior opposite Nathalie Bravo and junior setter Amanda Maalouf were first-team selections, while junior outside hitter Briana Hillo and junior opposite Elizabeth Fundora made the second team.
Nelson — who was selected to the All-CIF Southern Section Division IV-A first team earlier this week — was a driving force for a Bell-Jeff (17-10-1) team that captured its seventh consecutive Santa Cruz League championship and ran its league unbeaten streak to 52. In addition, the Guards advanced to the quarterfinal round of the playoffs for the fifth straight year.
A tough player to contain from the outside, Nelson was often double- and triple-blocked. Nevertheless, she still tallied 315 kills, 89 aces and 282 digs. She ended her tenure at Bell-Jeff with 840 career kills.
Dealing with injuries and other distractions throughout the season, Nelson stepped up and became the team’s leader. She also finally emerged as the Guards’ star as a senior after waiting in the wings for three years behind standout Jocelyn Cervantes, who graduated in 2011.
“Taryn has been a good player for three years for us, the only problem is that she had to play behind Jocelyn,” Segura said about the former three-time All-CIF athlete. “But this was the year she took over, and she really stepped up. She was patient for those three years and she waited for her turn. She got that chance this year and she did everything we could have asked of her.
“Whatever situation we were in Taryn was always willing to take on the leadership role. She had the mentality that she could take over and get the job done. This year was really a test for her as a leader.”
Bravo proved to be another valuable weapon for Bell-Jeff, finishing the year with 181 kills, 35 aces and 68 digs and Maalouf touched the ball more than any other Guard, tallying 575 assists, 52 aces and 192 digs.
Hillo did her part as well, collecting 169 kills, 14 aces and 33 blocks and Fundora tallied 89 kills, 28 aces and 120 digs.