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Sage Hill girls’ volleyball beats Oaks Christian in CIF Division 3 wild-card round

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Sage Hill celebrates a point in the fourth set of the CIF Southern Section Division 3 wild-card playoff match on Tuesday at Westlake Village Oaks Christian.
(Photo by Andrew Turner)

It would have been all too easy for the Sage Hill School girls’ volleyball team to pack it in after dropping its first 12 matches of the season.

Hardship struck in the form of a concussion to senior Danielle Beder, the team’s best overall player.

The Lightning worked to get better on the court, and when Beder returned, Sage Hill put together enough wins to sneak into the CIF Southern Section Division 3 playoffs as the third-place team from the San Joaquin League.

Sage Hill has learned to work through adversity, so even a two-hour-plus bus ride would not hold as an adequate excuse for not coming to play in the postseason.

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Beder had a match-high 15 kills, and Sage Hill defeated host Westlake Village Oaks Christian 25-21, 17-25, 25-15, 25-22 in a wild-card match on Tuesday to earn a spot in the main draw of the Division 3 bracket.

The Lightning (10-19) will travel to take on top-seeded Ontario Christian (28-3), the Ambassador League champion, in the first-round on Thursday at 6 p.m.

After missing the first 11 matches of the season, Beder said she desperately wanted to get back on the court and help her teammates. She has now helped them to a playoff victory.

“Coming into this match, I was like, ‘I want to play my hardest because it might be the last time that I play in high school,’” Beder said. “I did not want that to happen.”

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Senior outside hitter Ashley Sarkisian had 10 kills and three service aces. Junior opposite Emily Elliott added eight kills and 1½ blocks, and senior middle blocker Zoe Mazakas chipped in with six kills.

Junior setter Zoe Stern had 29 assists and four aces for the Lightning. Three of those aces came to open the match, as Sage Hill jumped out to a 6-0 lead in Game 1.

Lightning coach Dan Thomassen felt that his team found its footing in the third set, as Stern connected with four separate hitters for multiple kills in Game 3.

“I think her decisions were awesome,” Thomassen said of Stern. “I think in terms of setting the right person at the right time, she was able to get Natalia [Bryant] the ball a few really important times when she could hit it hard.”

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Sage Hill coach Dan Thomassen, center, instructs his team before the fourth set of the CIF Southern Section Division 3 wild-card playoff match on Tuesday at Westlake Village Oaks Christian.
(Photo by Andrew Turner)

Stern credited her team’s passing, led by senior libero Ashley Sung, for her effectiveness as a setter.

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“I think as the season has gone on, the passing has just gotten better and better, which has made it a lot easier to set,” Stern said. “It has really helped our team, so that we can vary whether we hit or tip, and the other team doesn’t expect it. It’s helped a lot.”

Sophomore middle blocker Lucia Scalamandre led the Lions (14-15) with 11 kills, three blocks and two aces. Olivia Sletten had eight kills, while Hannah Portzel and Caroline Ferrone each had five kills.

Morgan Chobanian handed out 16 assists, and Ileanna Bravos distributed 15 assists.

Oaks Christian threatened to send the match to a fifth set, but the Lightning rallied from a 20-15 deficit in Game 4.

Bryant’s biggest contributions came late in the fourth set. The junior middle blocker had a kill to give the Lightning a 23-22 lead. A solo block by Bryant on the next point gave her team a match point, and a hitting error by the Lions ended the match.

“It’s my favorite part of the game,” Bryant said of being on the court late in a tight match. “It’s something that I always look forward to, that really tense moment where it’s really close.

“I just love that exhilaration. It’s really fun.”

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