Don’t tell the Costa Mesa High girls’ volleyball team that it had nothing on the line Wednesday night.
In the Battle for the Bell rivalry, the host Mustangs defeated Estancia 25-17, 25-10, 23-25, 25-23 to sweep the season series and finish second in the Orange Coast League.
While the rivalry heat kept the Mustangs (16-9, 8-2 in league) motivated, Estancia (10-20, 3-7) needed a victory and a Saddleback loss to first-place Calvary Chapel to clinch third in the league. Wednesday’s loss to Costa Mesa ended Estancia’s CIF Southern Section Division 6 playoff hopes.
Calvary Chapel did its part, dispatching the Roadrunners to finish 10-0 in the league. The top three teams in the league earn automatic playoff berths. Costa Mesa qualified in Division 4 and Calvary Chapel in Division 5.
“The seniors delivered on senior night,” Mustangs coach Todd Hanson said. “We got off to a good start behind upperclassmen that maybe haven’t played as much, but [they] elevated themselves tonight.”
One of those seniors was Ashley Nguyen. Despite her short frame, she emphatically blocked a tipped Estancia shot at the net to build the first set lead to 11-6.
The main difference early was the imposing presences of Malia Tufuga, Kayla Nguyen and Tarah Harmon. The trio scored point after point with its length at the net.
“When we needed a point,” Hanson said, “I told our setters to get the ball to Malia.”
For the Eagles, unforced errors plagued them early. Senior Maddy Murray knocked a serve into the net, while Kaitlin Chesemore biffed a ball off her wrist.
The seniors delivered on senior night. We got off to a good start behind upperclassmen that maybe haven’t played as much, but [they] elevated themselves ...
Costa Mesa cruised in the second set, scoring the first seven points as Tufuga found various gaps in the Eagles’ defense. On one sequence, with the Mustangs up 17-7, Ashley Nguyen was beaned in the head on a hard-hit ball from Estancia. She recovered by producing an ace on the next serve.
With their playoff lives on the line, the Eagles dug deep in the third set. Sophomore Louise Chupeau hustled all night, digging out potential kills and tracking down wayward deflections. She finished with 14 kills, 17 digs and four aces.
After Tufuga and the towering Mustangs’ front line dominated the early sets, the smaller Chesemore battled with them to build a 9-4 third-set cushion.
“Today, they just grinded,” Eagles coach Alejandro De Mendoza said. “They just fought. We played Mesa before, and it was a 3-0 sweep. Once we got comfortable tonight, we showed what we could do in the late stages.”
A four-point rally clinched the set, with senior Mackenzie McIntyre delivering an ace to close the match to 2-1.
The final set was a back-and-forth affair. With his backups failing to close in the third set, Hanson trotted out his starters for the fourth set. Crosscourt kills from Chupeau were answered by spikes at the net from Tufuga and company.
With the set tied at 23-23, Tufuga took command. First, she launched a rocket that Murray couldn’t handle. Next, Stephanie Bernal lofted a perfect set to her, and she fired a laser just inside the sideline for match point.
The Eagles missed a chance to clinch the playoffs on Monday after dropping a five-set match to previously 4-18 Santa Ana. The Eagles won the first two sets, but they lost the last three.
Costa Mesa must wait to see who it plays next. The section will release the playoff brackets on Saturday at 1 p.m.
Meanwhile, that wraps up the season for Estancia, as well as the careers of Murray, Chesemore, McIntyre, Cosette Terriquez and Casandra Corrigan.
“It was an honor to have this senior group,” De Mendoza said. “We were inconsistent this year, but their work through adversity set a foundation going forward.”
SAM DODGE is a contributor to Times Community News. Follow him on Twitter: @samgododge