LA CAÑADA — About two months ago, there were no plans for Sean Stephen to be a part of the St. Francis High volleyball team.
Just a freshman, the strategy was to put Stephen on the school's junior varsity team with the possibility of calling him up to the varsity level late in the season. Those plans have since been scrapped and he's made an instant impact while providing another dimension for the Golden Knights.
Stephen finished with a team-high 14 kills, including seven in the fourth game, on Monday to power visiting St. Francis to a 25-18, 25-19, 24-26, 25-23 nonleague win against neighbor La Cañada.
"Honestly, I saw him being the captain of our JV team and have the opportunity to get a lot of repetitions," said St. Francis Coach Mark Frazee, whose team improved to 1-1. "If we got to the playoffs, he'd be the first one to call up.
"I've watched him quite a bit in practice and he's done well. He's filled in admirably."
Stephen, an outside hitter, helped turn back the Spartans (1-1). La Cañada appeared on the verge of knotting the match at two games apiece before Stephen stepped in and took charge.
Stephen said he wanted a chance to prove himself in a close match.
"You can get nervous being a freshman," Stephen said. "It's about playing as well as you can in different situations.
"I tried to play smart and we were able to get some big kills."
Stephen recorded a kill to give the Golden Knights a 13-11 in the fourth game. He then registered another kill to provide St. Francis a 17-15 advantage. The Spartans rallied to take a 21-19, before a kill by Stephen tied it at 21. St. Francis closed out the match on a 4-2 run, capped by a kill by outside hitter Mark Munoz.
St. Francis received 12 kills and six blocks from middle blocker Thomas Lund, 32 assists from setter David Thompson and 12 digs and three aces from outside hitter/defensive specialist Carl D'Aguilar.
The Spartans regained their traction after dropping the first two games. They were on the verge of being swept, falling behind, 23-19. However, La Cañada tied it at 23 on an ace by setter Connor Belcher. A kill by Munoz gave the Golden Knights a 24-23 lead before the Spartans ended the game on a 3-0 run.
Unfortunately for the Spartans, they couldn't answer Stephen's surge in the fourth game.
La Cañada assistant Coach Chris Sullivan said the Spartans showed signs of progress in the second half of the match.
"It's great the way we were able to battle back," Sullivan said. "We have a lot of new people and we are continuing to learn.
"It's still early in the season. We'll start to come together even more. It's just about getting repetitions and touches."
Outside hitter Mel Schroeder paced the Spartans with 16 kills and nine digs. La Cañada outside hitter Connor Walbrecht contributed 14 kills and 19 digs and Belcher added 33 assists.