LA CAÑADA — In perhaps less time than it would have actually taken to have driven to Palos Verdes Estates, the Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy volleyball team found itself motoring into the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division I-AA playoffs.
The Tologs boasted a season-high 15 blocks and rolled to a 25-9, 25-14, 25-14 victory over visiting Palos Verdes High in Tuesday evening’s first round of the divisional playoffs in a match that lasted 57 minutes.
With the victory, No. 8-ranked Flintridge Sacred Heart (26-6) earned advancement to Thursday’s second round versus No. 7-ranked Pacific Coast League champion Corona Del Mar (22-5), which punched its ticket Tuesday with a 3-0 win against Serra.
A coin flip Wednesday morning at the CIF-SS office will determine which team will host.
“Our emphasis in practice heading into the week was working on the block and being stronger up front,” Tologs junior middle blocker Clara Gross said. “We felt if we could be strong up front, we’d be strong overall.”
Gross led her squad with four blocks and was one three players to record at least three blocks along with freshman outside hitter Ellis DeJardin (four kills and three blocks) and senior middle blocker Megan Bacall (four kills and three blocks).
The Mission League runner-up Tologs certainly flexed their front-row muscles in the third set, as Gross opened with a stuff of Palos Verdes’ Sidney Smith. That point was immediately followed by a combo block from Gross and DeJardin that gave Flintridge Sacred Heart a two-point lead en route to a 10-1 advantage.
Despite later trailing, 11-2, the Sea Kings rallied as Flintridge Sacred Heart rotated in the entirety of its bench and also switched some starters, such as reigning All-Area Player of the Year Sophia Coffey, a setter who finished with 27 assists, to the outside.
Palos Verdes (10-19), which finished third in the Bay League, eventually closed to within 13-9 on a Tologs’ attacking error.
The surge, however, was unsustainable as Flintridge Sacred Heart fired back with three straight points, one on a back-row kill from Natalie Buntich, to go up, 16-9.
Palos Verdes again pushed and pulled to within 17-12 before the Tologs scored five straight points – with a pair of blocks each from DeJardin and Bacall – to take a 22-12 lead and never look back.
“The blocking was really setting up with our serving and passing,” Flintridge Sacred Heart Coach Ernest Banaag said. “We got it to the point where [Palos Verdes’] offense became very predictable and we were able to set up the block against them. It’s a lot easier to stop them when you know where the ball is going.”
Palos Verdes’ best early challenge took place in the second game, as it took a 2-0 advantage and last led, 4-3, before the Tologs went on 12-2 run to ice the game, aided by three kills from junior opposite Ali McCollum, who tied with teammate Kayla Lund for a team-high eight kills.
Libero Emile Develle, who added two of her three aces in the set, also finished with a team-high 19 digs.
In the first game, Flintridge Sacred Heart was most dominant, taking a 20-5 lead behind five kills from Lund, who sat out the third set.
“It was good to start the playoffs right and to see everyone play today,” said Lund, one of 12 Tologs to contribute at least one point. “We’re a real young team and we still need to get experience and build our confidence in the playoffs. This helps.”