BELLARMINE-JEFFERSON HIGH — The Bellarmine-Jefferson High girls' volleyball team took the first step forward Tuesday in its quest to win a sixth straight Santa Cruz League championship.
But things didn't start out rosy for the Guards, as visiting St. Genevieve gave them a fight in the first game.
Bell-Jeff was able to settle down however, powered by the play of Jocelyn Cervantes, to earn a 26-24, 25-19, 25-13, win in the league opener for both teams.
With a new setter and a host of new players this season, Bell-Jeff Coach Miguel Segura said nothing has been easy for the Guard thus far, and that was evidenced by the team's play in the first game.
"With our new players and our inconsistent play this season, we aren't going to take anybody for granted, especially in league," said Segura, whose team is ranked No. 4 in CIF Southern Section Division IV-A. "We know that the other teams in league are ready to get their punches in on us.
"We have had our share of problems, but I think that by about the mid-point in league we should be all right. We just need to keep improving."
Cervantes, a senior outside hitter, was relatively quiet in the first game, notching three kills. But she came on in Game 2 and 3 to give Bell-Jeff (4-5) the lift it needed.
"It was important to come out and get the first win in league," said Cervantes, last season's league player of the year and a two-time All-CIF Southern Section selection. "We wanted to start out right."
The Guards received 14 kills for Cervantes, eight kills and three aces from Taryn Nelson and 21 assists from Amanda Maalouf.
The Valiants (4-3) took control of the first game early. Taking advantage of 10 Bell-Jeff unforced errors in the game, St. Genevieve put the pressure on the champs.
The Valiants enjoyed two five-point leads in the frame at 11-5 and 11-6. Although the Guards tried to fight their way back, they just weren't able to grab the lead. Bell-Jeff was finally able to surge in front, 19-18, on a stuff block by Mariah Bankhead.
The Guards then embarked on a 5-2 run and were in the verge of winning the game with a 24-20 lead. However, the Valiants didn't go away easily. In fact, they won the next four straight points to knot the score at 24. Bell-Jeff was able to win the final two points on a kill by Nelson and a St. Genevieve net violation.
"That game just shows how inconsistent we can be," Segura said. "We had some problems and we let them back in."
It was much less of a struggle for the Guards in Game 2. Bell-Jeff took an early lead and let Cervantes do her thing. After taking a 3-2 advantage, the Guards never trailed.
It was much of the same in the third game. Bell-Jeff again surged ahead, 3-2, and increased the advantage to 20-10. The Valiants were hampered by 10 unforced errors — including seven hitting errors — in the frame.
"We're still learning, and we're going to get it," Segura said.