Make it 30 wins in a row at home for the Sage Hill School girls’ volleyball team.
The latest triumph inside “The Ube” gym propelled Sage Hill to the CIF State Southern California Regional Division III final for the second straight year. Sage Hill swept La Jolla, 25-16, 25-22, 25-11, on Saturday night to advance to the furthest round in the program’s history again.
Sage Hill plans to go even deeper in the state playoffs this time around. To pull it off, Sage Hill will have to prevail at home again.
Sage Hill (25-3) is playing host to the Southern California Regional Division III final against Saddleback Valley Christian (32-5) on Tuesday at 7 p.m. The higher seed earns the home match, Sage Hill is No. 2 and Saddleback Valley Christian is No. 5.
“They’re in our area, but we don’t seem to bump into them very often,” Sage Hill Coach Dan Thomassen said of San Juan Capistrano Saddleback Valley Christian, which upset No. 1 San Diego Canyon Crest Academy, 28-26, 16-25, 25-22, 16-25, 15-11, on Tuesday. “We tried to play a match with them this year, but it didn’t work out in neither of our schedules.”
The two programs will finally meet, Sage Hill, the CIF Southern Section Division 3AA champion, against Saddleback Valley Christian, the CIF Southern Section Division 3A champ. The winner earns a trip to the state finale at Santiago Canyon College in Orange on Dec. 6.
“It’s really beyond our expectations,” Thomassen said of Sage Hill’s second Southern California Regional Division III finals appearance in as many years. “All we wanted to do was come out and play a great match tonight, and not think ahead. We knew La Jolla was good, and [the Vikings] were very good. We just had things click really, really well.”
From the start, Sage Hill’s seniors, Kekai Whitford, Halland McKenna and Maddy Abbott, set the tone. Whitford, an outside hitter, finished with 13 kills, 23 digs, four service aces and three blocks, while McKenna, an outside hitter, contributed 15 kills, 15 digs and an ace. Abbott, a setter, tallied 42 assists, four digs and two kills.
The opening set featured a big dosage of Whitford early. She recorded the first two points off kills, tapping a shot toward the middle of the court and then hammering a crosscourt shot. Whitford’s jump serve was on point, ripping back-to-back aces. Whitford gave the Lightning a 5-1 lead, and it grew as high as seven five times, before Sage Hill pulled away for good.
Lina Aluzri served strong, allowing Sage Hill to go on a 5-0 run and go ahead, 22-11. Sophia Mossman, who had two kills earlier, stuffed a shot, and McKenna slammed one of her three kills in the first set. At set point, McKenna delivered an ace, one of five service winners for the Lightning in Game 1.
The second set turned out to be more competitive and more exciting. The Vikings took their first lead at 9-8 on a Madeleine Gates kill. The 6-foot-3 middle blocker broke four ties, but Whitford seemed to answer each time with a kill.
By the time the two sides reached 13-13, the second set was even nine times. La Jolla then built a two-point lead, its biggest, although it wouldn’t hold up. McKenna began to heat up, collecting four kills during a 5-0 spurt by the Lightning. La Jolla responded, tying the set twice, Gates coming through with a block and a kill. At 19-19, Whitford registered four kills, Jamie Dailey blocked a shot, and Jade Blevins came up with the set-clinching kill.
Through the first two sets, Whitford led the Lightning with 10 kills and McKenna trailed her by one in that category. Blevins (six kills), Dailey (five) and Mossman (four) joined in the kill action in Game 3.
Aluzri and Blevins also each created problems for La Jolla with their serve in the third set. Aluzri helped Sage Hill to a 6-0 run early in the set and Blevins to a 6-0 run midway through it. La Jolla (25-12), down, 16-4, called a timeout, but its season was about to end.
Sage Hill’s campaign continues. The program wants to make history by claiming its first Southern California Regional Division III crown, as well as the school’s first state team title in any sport.
“It’s surreal,” Whitford said. “Our fans, we always say that they’re the best and they’re always behind us.”
Whitford and company haven’t dropped a home match since Oct. 19, 2012. She and the rest of the team hope to extend the home match winning streak to 31.
“Having to go out to Visalia last year [to play at Central Valley Christian for the Southern California Regional Division III championship] was a big road trip, and I’m sure it had a little [affect on us losing],” Thomassen said. “Being able to be here [for the Southern California Regional Division III final this year] is big for us. Our home fans make a big difference.”