LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — Matchup-wise, the La Cañada High girls' volleyball team appeared to be heavy favorites going for its 62nd straight Rio Hondo League victory over a significantly smaller San Marino squad at home Tuesday.
While the deck wasn't stacked in their favor, the Titans came out with all the energy and appeared poised to take the Spartans to a full five games before La Cañada defensive specialist Megan Swartzlander led her squad on a big run to deliver a four-game win over San Marino, 25-21, 25-27, 25-20, 25-18.
"We are missing a lot of players so we just didn't have it all together, and energy," said Swartzlander of why San Marino was so tough to knock off. "They had way more energy and were cheering louder. They wanted it more, I think."
The Titans (8-6, 1-3 in league) were unable to take it, although it did seem the match was destined for five games when San Marino took a 17-10 lead in the fourth frame on a Cherie Chow kill.
Micaela Anderson, who finished with 11 kills and five blocks, got the Spartans (8-7, 4-0) service when she drilled a kill on the ensuing play. Down but not out, La Cañada tallied 10 straight points with Swartzlander serving, as she recorded three straight aces during the run, to put the Spartans ahead, 21-17, for the first time in the game.
"There was no way [we were out of it]," said Swartzlander, who a tied for the team-high in digs with 15. "I know that we're a good team and I knew we could do it."
La Cañada Coach Brock Turner said it was one of the only spots in the match where the Spartans got pumped up, which may have been a result of being down their vocal leader and libero Madison Teodo, who was sick, and senior middle blocker Katie Pierce, who's been out all year and is expected to return at the end of the month.
"We were way behind," Turner said of the fourth game. "I wasn't ready to count the game out, but we lacked energy. Then [Swartzlander] got us on this run and she's done it before. Thanks to Megan for serving tough. We always preach serve tough, pass tough and you'll win a lot of games — credit to her."
San Marino's Stephanie Dustin broke the 11-0 streak when she fired a kill, but the Titans wouldn't score again with La Cañada closing out the match on a 4-0 run with two kills from Lauren Streeter (14 kills, five blocks) and one each from Anderson and Kendall Walbrecht, who finished with a match-high 20 kills, 15 digs and two aces.
"They were serving well but I think there was a little bit of a panic and we started over thinking too much," first-year San Marino Coach Gordon Anderson said. "I think it was an emotional letdown more than a physical one. We've had a few matches like this and every time we play one we learn from them. When we see these teams at home I think we have a good chance of going against them. We are fixing our mistakes. We played better today than we have all season."
Turner also had high praise for the Titans.
"They were digging, passing and doing everything," he said. "They were just fired up coming in. I am not sure if it's because it's us, and I hope it's not, I just hope they always play matches like that. More credit to them, if I was them I would be proud. Yeah, you don't walk away with a victory but you played really well."
La Cañada had late runs in store for San Marino the entire match. Down 19-17, the Spartans rallied back to win the opening game on an 8-2 spurt. Walbrecht scored the last three points of the game via kills for La Cañada.
It was the Titans who had the most impressive run of the match, though. The Spartans had game point, 24-20, when four straight unforced La Cañada errors tied the game and gave San Marino new life. Chow pushed the Titans to game point, 25-24, with a kill, which also gave them their first lead since they held a 15-14 advantage.
Anderson knotted the score at 25 with a kill off the San Marino block, but Chow came right back with a block and Anderson before the Titans tied the match at a game apiece on a La Cañada hitting error that was ruled just out.
Gordon Anderson said he believed his defense, led by libero Felita Salim (26 digs) and Cassidy Mace (15 digs), were key to San Marino's success by frustrating La Cañada's offense. The Titans also got a big boost from their setter Amanda Yee, who finished with 39 assists and had three kills. Chow and Mabel Cootauco led San Marino in kills with 10 and seven, respectively.
The Spartans found themselves in another precarious position down, 18-15, in the third game. They tied the match at 19 on kills from Streeter, Anderson and two Titans hitting errors before closing out the frame on a 7-1 run with Walbrecht sealing the game with consecutive kills.
"We are disappointed we didn't win, especially when we felt like we had such a good chance," Gordon Anderson said, "but it is definitely a confidence builder to see we can not just matchup with the really strong teams in our league, but we have a serious chance to beat them."