Bell-Jeff volleyball fights for playoff win

BELLARMINE-JEFFERSON HIGH — The members of the Bellarmine-Jefferson High girls’ volleyball team tried not to think about the scary image that befell one of their teammates during a playoff match Thursday evening.

Just three points away from taking the first game of their CIF Southern Section Division IV-A second-round contest against California Academy of Math and Science, Guards starting middle Briana Hillo collapsed to the floor clutching her right leg. The match was stopped, as Hillo lie on the court crying and writhing in pain while she was being attended to by the team trainer.

Bell-Jeff was able to win the final points to take the first stanza. However, the Guards struggled in losing the second game, as they looked out of sorts and didn’t appear to have much energy.

Battling back, the Guards slowly regained their focus in the third and fourth games, spearheaded by big performances from Taryn Nelson and Mariah Bankhead, to win the home match against the Rebels, 25-15, 20-25, 25-22, 25-11.

Bell-Jeff Coach Miguel Segura said Hilo was taken to seek medical attention.

“After Briana went down, you could see it affected us in the second game,” Segura said. “It’s tough for the girls to see something like that and try to be able to keep up the intensity. It was hard on them at first, and it took us a while to get over, but they were able to come back.”

The victory puts Bell-Jeff (18-1-1) — which captured the Santa Cruz League championship for the seventh consecutive year — in the quarterfinals for the fifth straight season. The Guards will take on host Laguna Blanca in the quarters Saturday.

As has been the case for the Guards in many of their matches this season, they were led by senior outside hitter Taryn Nelson. Nelson made an impact, particularly in the third game, notching eight of her match-high 21 kills in the stanza. At one point in the third, Nelson had eight kills in a row.

The Guards were rolling along in the first game against CAMS (12-5), which finished second in the Delphic League. The Bell-Jeff defense stepped up in the frame, limiting the Rebels to just two kills over the course of the game. Bell-Jeff was able to win the game despite committing 10 unforced errors.

With Hilo sidelined, the Guards lost all of the momentum they had gained in the first game when they went flat in the second. Bell-Jeff led only briefly, 3-1, until the Rebels stormed back to take the lead, 5-4. The Guards wouldn’t get closer than two points after that.

“When she went down, we were like ‘Who’s going to play in the middle?,’” said Nelson, who also had 12 digs and five aces. “We were badly impacted by that.

“I just told them if we still want this we can take it because we’re a good enough team. We just had to put it out of our minds and battle back. And we were able to do that. I’m very proud of the team for that.”

With Nelson leading the way, Bell-Jeff came back from being down early in the third game to take a slight lead. The Guards maintained the lead until CAMS tied the score at 20. However, four kills by Nelson down the stretch helped win it for Bell-Jeff.

In the fourth, it was Bankhead’s time to shine. She tallied six of her 11 kills in the game, as the Guards led throughout most of the stanza. Bankhead also had four blocks.

Amanda Maalouf had 30 assists for the Guards.

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