In the end, Laguna Beach was left standing, but Los Alamitos left with its head held high.
Hard as the Los Alamitos girls' volleyball team tried, Laguna Beach fought-off every conceivable Griffin rally to win its opening-round match of the Southern California Division I playoffs, 15-13, 15-6, 13-15, 14-16, 15-8 in a 2-hour 40-minute match Tuesday night at Los Alamitos.
Afterwards, Los Alamitos Coach Pattie Laird was hugging her team and telling everyone within earshot what a great run it had been.
Across the room and behind closed doors, there was Laguna Beach Coach Mike Soylular, giving his team a verbal beating and later wondering aloud what kind of an effort--or lack thereof--he had seen put forth.
"Ugly, ugly," Soylular repeated to no one in particular. "I don't know what these girls were thinking. This is state. It's a privilege to play here. I guess they thought it was going to be easy. They thought, 'Oh, they're a Division II team and we're Division I.' "
Los Alamitos, recently crowned Southern Section Division II champion, moved up a division in the State tournament because of enrollment requirements. Laguna Beach, a semifinal loser in four games to section champion Corona del Mar last Thursday, will meet the Sea Kings for the third time this season--the Artists defeated Corona del Mar early in the season in the Orange County Tournament--in Saturday's second round.
For the first two games, the Griffins (23-2) didn't look like the promotion agreed with them--the Artists (17-6) shot to a 2-0 lead.
But as they did last week first against Long Beach Millikan and then against Huntington Beach, Los Alamitos found a little something extra inside.
In Game 3, Los Alamitos trailed, 6-1, but Laird sent in a new setter--Jodie Dolan replaced Katie Pearce--and the Griffins aced, blocked and spiked their way to a 12-8 lead and eventually won it, 15-13, when Laguna Beach mis-hit into the net.
The Griffins took a 10-6 lead in Game 4, but it was the Artists' turn to rally, taking an 11-10 lead on a block by Michelle Christ. At 14-13 and with its fist match point, Laguna Beach served into the net, Los Alamitos pulled even and forced a fifth game on the strength of Maria Bowden's three straight kills and an ace by Amanda Johnson.
In Game 5, Laguna Beach shot to an 8-3 lead. The Griffins pulled to 8-5, but the Artists started to dominate and won off a block by Christ on match point No. 4.
Los Alamitos simply ran out of gas, and luck, according to Laird.
"You can only pull so many rabbits out of the hat," she said. "We had a great season. Winning the section title for the first time in school history was what we were after all season. Everything else was icing on the cake. I am so proud of these girls."
Soylular was singing a much different tune.
"When we were practicing, I could tell by their intensity we were in trouble," he said. "I told my assistant that (Los Alamitos) is going to do to us what it did to Huntington Beach."