Laguna Beach took advantage of a rare opportunity Saturday night, defeating El Toro, 15-12, 15-13, 15-13, in the Southern Section 5-A girls’ volleyball championship game at Cerritos College.
Rachel Wacholder had 28 kills as the unseeded Artists (22-2) won their first section title since 1976. Their most recent appearance in the finals had been 1980, when they lost to Mira Costa.
“Rachel was an animal out there tonight,” said Mike Soylular, Laguna Beach’s first-year coach. “This win is terrific for our community.
“We’re the smallest school in the 5-A division (with 680 students), and everyone has been asking us if we wanted to drop down a division for the State tournament. But we want to go Division I.”
With the victory, Laguna Beach (22-2) clinched a spot in the State tournament. Pairings will be announced today.
Although Laguna Beach swept El Toro, the victory was far from a blowout. The Artists overcame deficits in each game.
Laguna Beach rallied from a 9-7 deficit to win the first game. Laguna Beach took a 13-12 lead, and middle blocker Jessica Wallace had consecutive stuff blocks for the Artists’ final two points.
Laguna Beach fell behind again early in the second game. El Toro built a 9-4 lead, but Laguna Beach, led by Wacholder, scored 10 of the next 11 points to take a 14-10 lead.
El Toro (18-4) fought off two game points, capitalizing on a kill by Analisa Saylor and two Laguna Beach hitting errors to cut its deficit to 14-13. But Laguna Beach’s Shauna Shapiro gave the Artists the victory with an ace.
The Artists trailed again, 13-12, in the third game. Wacholder had consecutive kills to give Laguna Beach a 14-13 lead, and the match ended on an El Toro hitting error.
Shapiro, playing with a sore right wrist, had 43 assists, and outside hitter Tori Scott added six kills.
Senior Wendy Balut had 11 kills, and junior middle blocker Amanda Burrows added 10. The Chargers’ leading hitter, Jaime Smith, struggled with Laguna Beach’s blocking and finished with six kills.
“The match came down to eight plays Laguna did better than we did,” El Toro Coach Mike Jagd said. “To lose (12, 13, 13) is not being beaten too badly.”
But Soylular, who coached at the collegiate level before coming to Laguna Beach, struggled to put the victory in perspective.
“I still don’t really know what I’m saying,” he said. “I think it will take another hour or two to set in. I’m really not trying to sound humble, but these girls came here to win tonight.”