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Huntington Beach girls’ volleyball rallies, beats Newport Harbor for 14th straight win

Huntington Beach's Taylor Ponchak, center, celebrates a point against Newport Harbor on Tuesday.
Huntington Beach’s Taylor Ponchak, center, celebrates a point during a Sunset Conference crossover girls’ volleyball match against Newport Harbor on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The Huntington Beach High School girls’ volleyball team is on the kind of roll where nothing seems to rattle it.

Neither a high-profile clash against Wave League-leading Newport Harbor, nor an ankle injury to starting middle blocker Sydney Murrey in warmups, could derail the Oilers.

Senior Lillian Perkins had a team-high 12 kills to lead Huntington Beach past Newport Harbor 15-25, 25-23, 25-17, 25-22, as the host Oilers notched their 14th consecutive win on Tuesday in a Sunset Conference crossover match.

Sophomore outside hitter Haylee LaFontaine added eight kills, two service aces and a block for the Oilers (21-5), who are in first place in the Surf League.

Huntington Beach celebrates beating Newport Harbor during a Sunset Conference crossover girls' volleyball match on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“We all really work together,” LaFontaine said of going into the match without Murrey. “We knew that it wouldn’t be the same, but we just had to try to find a way to make it work.”

Huntington Beach coach Craig Pazanti said he is optimistic that Murrey will be able to play when his team travels to take on Los Alamitos next Tuesday in a match that is expected to loom large in the race for the Surf League title. Huntington Beach won the first meeting in four sets on Sept. 7.

The Oilers have youth at key positions. Meghan Freck and Dani Sparks, the two setters in their 6-2 offense, are both sophomores. Through the passing of junior libero Tori Hagan and others, the Oilers found themselves taking swings from on top of the net for much of the contest.

“We started playing better defense after the first set, and when we’re passing the ball well, our setters do a nice job, and we’ve got enough weapons,” Pazanti said. “Being in the 6-2, we’ve always got three attackers, and we’ve got a fourth one coming out of the back row, so I just thought we’ve been getting more comfortable as the year has gone on, and this group truly enjoys playing with each other.”

Huntington Beach's Haylee LaFontaine passes a ball against Newport Harbor on Tuesday.
Huntington Beach’s Haylee LaFontaine passes a ball during a Sunset Conference crossover girls’ volleyball match against Newport Harbor on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Newport Harbor (15-6) trailed 20-13 in the second set, but the Sailors threatened to claim the first two sets out of the gate. Senior outside hitter Emma Fults evened Game 2 at 23-23 with a kill, but freshman middle blocker Taylor Ponchak clinched the second set for the Oilers with a kill of her own.

In closing time, it was a heavy dose of Perkins that led the Oilers to the win. Perkins, who played both outside hitter and opposite during the evening, had eight kills in the fourth set, while senior opposite Kate O’Steen and LaFontaine each had three kills.

“Lillian brings so much energy to the team,” sophomore middle blocker Kylie Leopard said. “She’s probably one of our biggest cheerers on the side and on the court. She’s always pumped. Even if she’s not doing the best, she always has so much energy. I think it builds from there, and I think that’s what helps her play, too.”

Newport Harbor was led by junior outside hitter Quinn Perry, who had 16 kills, nine digs and two aces. Fults provided 13 kills and nine digs, junior outside hitter Anabel Kotzakov had 10 kills, and senior outside hitter Emma Coatsworth added seven kills for the Sailors. Senior setter Kate Bland handed out 27 assists, while junior setter Tegan Glenn distributed 14 assists.

Huntington Beach's Haylee LaFontaine hits against Newport Harbor's Emma Coatsworth.
Huntington Beach’s Haylee LaFontaine hits against Newport Harbor’s Emma Coatsworth during a Sunset Conference crossover girls’ volleyball match on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Senior middle blockers Anne O’Brien and Gabbi Higgs, as well as Fults, all recorded three block assists.

“We were blocking a lot of balls, but they were covering extended rallies,” Newport Harbor coach Andrew Mabry said. “This was a great night of high school volleyball. It was a good match on both sides, and even though it’s a crossover game, we view this as the Sunset League still.”

Entering the week, the Sailors sat atop the CIF Southern Section Division 3 rankings. A loss to the red-hot Oilers is unlikely to have a major impact on that ranking.

“I think it matters, but I think we’ve got a long way to go before it matters,” Mabry said when asked if he felt seeding mattered in the playoffs. “I don’t know that it matters a ton on a week-to-week basis. I think what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to control what you can, which means you’ve got to do well and compete in your league, and then you see where it lines up at the end of the year.”

Newport Harbor's Anne O'Brien hits into Huntington Beach's Haylee LaFontaine, left, and Kylie Leopard.
Newport Harbor’s Anne O’Brien hits into Huntington Beach’s Haylee LaFontaine, left, and Kylie Leopard during a Sunset Conference crossover girls’ volleyball match on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

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