Providence volleyball fights back to topple Bell-Jeff in CIF playoff opener

BURBANK — For one local team it was pure jubilation.

For another local team it was bitter disappointment.

When Belllarmine-Jefferson High met Providence Tuesday in a CIF Southern Section Division IV-A first-round playoff match, the cross-town rivalry was in full swing.

PHOTOS: Bell Jeff vs. Providence in CIF Southern Section Division IV-A girls' volleyball playoffs

But it would be the swing of momentum that would determine the eventual winner.

Although the Guards jumped out to an early advantage by winning the first two games, the host Pioneers didn't roll over. Instead, Providence rallied, took a stranglehold on the match's momentum and finished off an impressive comeback in the form of a 21-25, 19-25, 25-18, 25-23, 15-10 victory.

The win puts the Pioneers (17-7) into a difficult second-round contest Thursday at a time to be determined. Providence will be taking on host Laguna Blanca, the division's top seed.

Providence, the runner-up in the Liberty League, earned that spot in the second round by executing a torrid comeback against Bell-Jeff (9-7), which placed third in the Santa Cruz League.

"I have to give credit to my girls, they really fought hard and they wanted to win this one," Providence Coach James Jimenez said. "They were down, but they never gave up.

"Bell-Jeff played well in those first games and I have to give credit to them. But our girls wanted this and they were able to do it."

The win by the Pioneers snapped a seven-match losing streak by Providence against Bell-Jeff, a streak that dated back to 2006.

The Pioneers didn't have any dominating performances, but instead spread the success around. Regina Benedicto had 14 kills and Lorena Ubillus added 11. Teammate Jenny Nardoni contributed 34 assists and Nikka Adraneda had 34 digs.

For the Guards, it was a bitter loss. Bell-Jeff was on the road for the first round of the playoffs for the first time in eight years after winning seven straight league titles prior to this season. The Guards got to the division quarterfinals last season, losing to Laguna Blanca.

"I just think that we thought we had it after winning those first two games," said Bell-Jeff Coach Brandon Johnson, who received 20 kills and 22 digs from Liz Fundora and 16 kills from Briana Hillo. "But we just took our foot off the gas. We thought winning the first two sets were going to be enough, but it turned out it wasn't."

The Guards looked poised to make it an easy sweep of the Pioneers by rolling to take the first two games. Bell-Jeff dominated play at the net and Providence had problems containing Fundora and Hillo.

But the Pioneers came out in the third game and grabbed the lead at 13-12 on an ace by Nardoni and they never relinquished the advantage the rest of the way.

"We were just so happy when we were able to win that third game," Ubillus said. "It took a little pressure off of us. We were just trying to do our best and we were trying our hardest. We really pushed hard and that's what really helped us."

In the fourth game, Bell-Jeff led late until Providence was able to surge back out in front, 21-20, on a kill by Benedicto. Bell-Jeff was able to tie the score at 22 and 23 until a kill and an ace gave the Pioneers the game forced a game five.

In the fifth game, Providence took a 6-0 lead and the Guards couldn't get to within three points of the advantage the rest of the way.

"I just told them that if they want to extend their season they have to battle back," Jimenez said. "And they did."

Amanda Maalouf had 37 assists and Sam Cesarez had 33 digs for Bell-Jeff.

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