The Laguna Beach High girls’ volleyball team played like a champion in Wednesday night's sweep of Mission Hills Alemany in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 3 playoffs, but the Breakers don't want to get ahead of themselves.
It's been 11 years since the program's last section title, and there's great belief following the 25-20, 25-18, 25-21 win at home that coach Shawn Patchell's team could claim Laguna Beach's sixth crown.
First things first for the No. 2-seeded Breakers (17-12), who are in a semifinal showdown Saturday at Cypress (22-4), which beat Newhall Hart in four sets on Wednesday. The other semifinal will pit No. 1 Sun Valley Village Christian (32-9) at Culver City (29-2), which won the Division 4 title last year and the Division 5 championship in 2016.
“They're playing with confidence,” Patchell said of his Breakers. “They don't look too far ahead. We're just going to focus on [Cypress]. ... We take it one practice at a time, one ball at a time. That's the way we want to do it.
“I think, simply, they can do it. We're not inexperienced. We're young, but we're not inexperienced. They're playing the way I want them to play.”
Cambria Hall had 11 kills and 17 digs, Piper Naess contributed 10 kills and 17 digs, and Laguna Beach, featuring just one senior, combined solid defensive play with a superb passing game to keep the No. 6-ranked Warriors (25-7) off-balance.
“We played very well,” said Naess, a junior outside hitter. “Last year we lost in the quarters, so we knew we wanted to get further, and we had a really good mentality. We went full-force and played our hardest, and the outcome shows.”
Freshman Natalia Hagopian (19 assists) and Soren Patchell (13 assists) had the attack humming all night. The greatest difference was in the service games. The Breakers served up 13 aces — five by Jacquelyn Strawn — with just six errors, and Alemany had four aces and 11 errors.
“We were really struggling [with our serve] the first round of CIF [against Murrieta Mesa], so that's been the focal point,” Patchell said. “The girls got back there and relaxed a little bit more, so we served better. I'm really happy with our defense. We've been working on positional defense, and we've been getting more disciplined and, as a result, we're in good spots to get balls.
“Our passing was excellent ... and when you're passing as well as we were tonight, it gets a little frustrating for them. Alemany made a few errors, but that had to do with our passing. We put some pressure on them.”
The Breakers overpowered Alemany late in all three sets. They went on an 11-5 run to end the first set, with Hall delivering three kills and two aces and Ella Tyus winning it with an ace.
The Warriors, led by Annah Rivera (19 kills), built a five-point edge early on the second set and were ahead 17-13 when Patchell called a timeout. Laguna Beach's 12-1 run finished that off, with Strawn delivering aces for the 23rd and 24th points and Hall's kill completing the win.
Alemany again led big in the third set, but the Breakers finished with an 11-3 spree, reaching their 28th semifinal since 1975 on Tyus' ace.
A win over Cypress would send the Breakers to their 12th championship match.