Huntington Beach girls’ volleyball tests top-ranked Mater Dei in state playoff exit

Senior middle blocker Kylie Leopard, seen against Los Alamitos on Oct. 3, had 11 kills and 4.5 blocks vs. Mater Dei Saturday.
Senior middle blocker Kylie Leopard, seen against Los Alamitos on Oct. 3, had 11 kills and 4.5 blocks versus Mater Dei on Saturday.
(Steve Galluzzo / For The Times)

Huntington Beach had its shot at the top girls’ volleyball team in the country, and in a match that would mark the end of a terrific season, the Oilers would walk away with no regrets.

If they had to come to the realization that this would be the last time they took the court together, Saturday’s performance was certainly one that they could be proud of.

A spirited effort found Huntington Beach up after three sets on the road, but Mater Dei handled the pressure in defeating the Oilers 25-19, 23-25, 25-27, 25-13, 15-3 in the semifinals of the CIF State Southern California Regional Open Division playoffs.


Mater Dei (42-2), the Southern Section champion in Division 1, advanced to the state final against San Jose Archbishop Mitty with a four-set win over San Diego Cathedral Catholic on Tuesday.

Layli Ostovar had 20 kills, two service aces and 1½ blocks to lead Mater Dei’s pin hitters. Michigan commit Cymarah Gordon added 18 kills and two blocks, and University of San Diego-bound Isabel Clark chipped in with 14 kills.

Julia Kakkis, a Brown University commit, distributed 50 assists to go with four block assists and four kills. Malyssa Cawa had a match-high four aces, while Emma Kingston had a team-best four blocks for the Monarchs.

“We’re a super gritty team,” said Cawa, a Stanford-bound libero. “I feel like when our back is pushed up against the wall, we respond better under pressure. We all knew coming into today, we all kind of looked at each other at the end and told each other that this was not going to be the last time that we took the court together.”

The Monarchs have not lost in the best-of-five format, and the Oilers are the only team to extend them to a fifth set this season.

“Oddly enough, we have not had any fifth sets the entire season,” Mater Dei coach Dan O’Dell said. “This is the first time we have, but that’s not to say we haven’t been tested. In the Durango Tournament in Las Vegas, in the quarters, semis and finals, those all were best-of-three and they all went into the third set. We’ve played do-or-die matches, and in that tournament when we won it, the girls showed off and they were at their best in those third sets. …

“I keep crediting the senior class. I think the senior class is very resilient, and I don’t see them ever backing down and being nervous for that challenge of a fifth set.”

Huntington Beach coach Craig Pazanti had a similar sort of admiration for the performance turned in by his side.

“I couldn’t be prouder of how this group came out and competed tonight,” Pazanti said. “To go on the road against that team and be up 2-1 was awesome. I think we just ran out of gas midway through the third. Give Mater Dei a lot of credit. They kept the pressure on even after going down 2-1. There’s a reason they are the No. 1-ranked team in the country, and they showed that tonight.”

Huntington Beach hustled to cover its side of the net, accounting for the angles and short balls that were prevalent in the Mater Dei attack. Dani Sparks (48 assists) and Olivia Foye were key in those scrambling efforts. The Oilers also got standout performances from Kylie Leopard (4½ blocks), Amika Swanson (3½ blocks) and Taylor Ponchak (three blocks) in sending back the Monarchs’ swings.

“I don’t think it was necessarily that we were scared to lose, because we came into this gym knowing that everyone expected us to lose and the odds were all against us,” Sparks said. “Going into that fifth set, we wanted to win so bad, but there was just nothing left to give after the first four.”

Foye evened the match at a set apiece with an ace to end the second set. Leopard spiked one of her 11 kills to give the Oilers the third set after kills by Addison Williams and Ponchak erased two set points for the Monarchs leading up to that opportunity.

“I think we found the most success with just getting them out of system with our serves, as well, and just not giving up on any play,” Foye said. “I think our scramble plays is really what led us and led us to that energy because we made our own success and made our own luck, when we were winning those sets.”

Haylee LaFontaine had a team-high 19 kills for Huntington Beach, which was the Surf League champion this season. Ponchak had 16 kills and Williams provided seven kills.