The Huntington Beach High girls’ volleyball team knew that its hopes of an automatic CIF Southern Section playoff berth hanged in the balance of its final Surf League match against Edison.
The Oilers didn’t avoid discussing what was on the line. They talked about it at length leading up to Tuesday night’s home contest, and as a group, the Oilers decided it was in their best interest to just go with the flow.
That flow helped Huntington Beach sweep Edison 25-15, 25-18, 25-17, avenging a loss to the Chargers in the same fashion just 11 days ago.
The Oilers’ victory, combined with Corona del Mar’s win over Los Alamitos, forced a three-way tie for second place in league play with the Griffins and Chargers. Huntington Beach, Edison and Los Alamitos are each 2-4 in the league.
The tiebreaker matches will be played on Wednesday at a neutral site, Marina High. Huntington Beach faces Edison at 5 p.m. to see who will play Los Alamitos right after to earn that coveted guaranteed playoff spot. The Griffins only have to play once because it held the best set winning percentage of the teams involved. Each match will be a best-of-three format.
“We’ve been playing tight all year,” Huntington Beach coach Craig Pazanti said. “I think we finally just played with nothing to lose, freed it up, and just played.”
Huntington Beach (13-12 overall) had its passing and attack looking efficient and fluid from the outset, stunning Edison in the first set by taking a 17-6 advantage behind three kills from Xolani Hodel, all set up by the precision passing of Jaclyn Sanchez.
The Oilers didn’t let up after an Edison timeout. They extended their lead to 21-9, before fending off a small Chargers’ run to close out a 25-15 Game 1 victory with a service ace from Mia Christensen and a combined block by Hodel and Sierra Emil.
We’ve been playing tight all year. I think we finally just played with nothing to lose, freed it up, and just played.
The second set was a bit tighter throughout as Edison (16-14) took a 10-9 advantage on a thunderous kill from Taylor Torchia.
Huntington Beach battled back to take a 21-16 lead on a kill from Sabrina Phinizy, followed by an ace and a kill from Hodel, and a kill from Olivia Carlton. The Oilers closed out the set with kills from Phinizy, Carlton and Emil.
The combination of Hodel and Emil was effective all match long and something that was a new look put forth by Pazanti. He wanted to change up the lineup.
“I think we’re getting a little bit more out of everybody with this lineup,” Pazanti said. “We were trying to put our best six volleyball players on the court before and now we’re putting out best position specific players on the floor.”
Hodel, who finished with 10 kills, said the chemistry between her and Emil caught Edison off-guard.
“It was an intimidation factor, maybe,” she said. “It just seems to be working really well when we’re both up, because we both have pretty sizable blocks.”
Edison tried to gain separation early in the third set, taking a 7-6 lead on Summer Hanks’ kill, which was assisted by Aly Fullbright. But Huntington Beach rallied behind four straight kills from Phinizy to take an 11-9 advantage.
The Oilers pushed ahead with a quick 8-3 run to open a commanding 20-13 lead in Game 3 before finishing off the Chargers with two kills from Carlton and a kill from senior Alex Whitter, who had checked into the match for the first time just a few points prior.
“Huntington served and passed the ball a lot better than they did in our last match,” Edison coach Matt Skolnik said. “They have really good middles and, when you can pass like that, it makes their middles unstoppable. That opened up their outside hitters who played really well.”
DEVIN UGLAND is a contributor to Times Community News. Follow him on Twitter: @Devin_Ugland