BURBANK — For the Bellarmine-Jefferson girls' volleyball team, momentum was a fair-weather friend at home on Tuesday, swinging its opponent's way at the least opportune time.
The Guards squandered a two-game lead, as St. Mary's Academy rallied to win, 23-25, 25-27, 25-23, 25-18, 15-12, in the Santa Cruz League finale.
"Volleyball is a big momentum sport and I told our girls before set three, I said you've got to win three sets no matter what," said Bell-Jeff Coach Brandon Johnson. "What we did is we let our guard down. We lost a set and from there all of the momentum shifted to their team."
The loss has greater implications than a run-of-the-mill Tuesday evening volleyball match. The defeat concluded the Guards' regular season with a mark of 8-4 overall and 4-4 in league. After winning seven straight league titles, Bell-Jeff will finished third.
The pivotal third set saw Bell-Jeff ahead, 11-5, before the Belles rallied. The third set alone featured nine ties, including 22-22 before St. Mary's pulled away.
The third-set victory gave the Belles some needed wind in their sails, winning the fourth set comfortably. The truncated fifth set saw five more ties, the last one at 12. St. Mary's scored three unanswered point to clinch the match.
"Once one person goes down, we all go down," said Bell-Jeff setter Amanda Maalouf, who led her team with 38 assists. "That's what happens with our team. It's been like that for a while."
The first two sets were tight. St. Mary's went up, 9-5, in the first before Bell-Jeff rallied. The first set saw nine ties, including 23-23 before the Guards won, 25-23.
In the second set, the Guards were up, 12-6, before the Belles rallied. In keeping with the theme, the two sides were knotted 10 times before Bell-Jeff won, 27-25.
Briana Hillo had 18 kills for Bell-Jeff and teammate Sam Cesarez added 31 digs.
"We just have to play hard," Maalouf said. "We have to practice hard, because you practice the way you play. At the same time we need to have fun. I think we have a really good chance of getting far in the playoffs if we play together."