Huntington Beach finds energy late to beat Santa Margarita

Haylee LaFontaine (11) of Huntington Beach kills a ball past a block during a nonleague match on Tuesday.
Haylee LaFontaine (11) of Huntington Beach kills a ball past the block of Santa Margarita’s Brooklyn Kostoff (3) during a nonleague match on Tuesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

For nearly all of a marathon match against Santa Margarita on Tuesday night, Huntington Beach could not furnish the desired start to a set.

The Oilers had played from behind all night, and after the final three-minute reprieve, they took the court for the fifth set and took the match.

Huntington Beach won seven of the first eight points in the final set, as the third-ranked Oilers rallied past the visiting Eagles 29-31, 26-24, 22-25, 25-19, 15-6.


Kylie Leopard (36) of Huntington Beach kills a ball past the block of Santa Margarita's Memphis Burnett (81) on Tuesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Outside hitter Haylee LaFontaine had four of her match-high 27 kills in the fifth set for Huntington Beach (15-4), which also saw middle blockers Kylie Leopard and Amika Swanson account for four points in the decisive game.

“[Setter] Dani [Sparks] talked to us and told us that we needed to step our game up,” said Leopard, who had eight kills and two blocks. “We’ve lost on our home court before, and it doesn’t feel good. We beat Santa Margarita on Saturday. We knew we needed to pull out the fifth set. We may have had a rough start, but it doesn’t always matter how you start, it matters how you finish.”

Sparks, who like LaFontaine has committed to Cal Poly for beach volleyball, had 65 assists and two service aces, including one to end the fourth set.

“It was kind of like a plot to show that we could fight through a slump during the game,” Sparks said. “We had a hard time in the first few sets with low energy, and we just found a way to push ourselves back up and get through the fifth set.”

Opposite Taylor Ponchak provided 16 kills and 1½ blocks for Huntington Beach. Starting outside hitter Ellie Esko had nine kills, while Addison Williams had eight kills off the bench. Olivia Foye and Meghan Freck combined for five aces.

Huntington Beach made a run to the semifinals of the Dave Mohs Tournament over the weekend, falling to tournament champion San Diego Cathedral Catholic after splitting the first two sets. The Oilers have yet to suffer defeat in a best-of-five match.

Huntington Beach libero Olivia Foye passes a ball against Santa Margarita on Tuesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Santa Margarita (13-5), ranked eighth in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 and 2 combined poll, tested the Oilers after the latter earned a straight-sets win in the tournament.

“They really stepped up and did a nice job, especially at the service line,” Huntington Beach coach Craig Pazanti said of the Eagles. “We weren’t passing the ball. I don’t think we had a kill from the middle until the fourth set. Usually, our offense runs through the middle, so I put a little bit of that on the fact that they were serving tough and not allowing us to get the ball in the middle.”

Memphis Burnett had 23 kills, five aces and 1½ blocks for Santa Margarita, which held a lead of at least four points in each of the first three sets. Ireland Real had 14 kills to go with 5½ blocks. Oregon State-bound outside hitter Regan Shields had 12 kills and two aces, and Brooklyn Kostoff supplied 51 assists for the Eagles.

Huntington Beach opposite Taylor Ponchak (27) kills a ball against Santa Margarita on Tuesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Huntington Beach brings back an experienced group, as 14 of its players were on the roster last year. Pazanti said the program has a number of beach volleyball commits. Lola Fernstern and Freck have committed to UC Davis, and Ponchak has committed to Stanford. Foye has also committed to Princeton for indoor volleyball.

“We just need to have one last go-round and be able to finish strong,” Leopard said. “At the end of the season, I want to feel like we really accomplished something, and I want to be proud to say that I played for Huntington Beach. … [My goal is] a team effort to win as many games as possible.”

Kylie Leopard (36) and Ellie Esko (10) of Huntington Beach put up a block against Santa Margarita's Ireland Real on Tuesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)