Laguna Beach High girls’ volleyball coach Shawn Patchell insists that there is a method to his madness.
The Breakers have gone through some trying times during their nonleague schedule, in large part because Laguna Beach has been taking on some of the best the sport has to offer.
Their latest test came in the form of a match at Foothill, which came into the contest ranked No. 15 in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 and 2 poll.
Piper Naess finished with 11 kills for the Breakers, but the Knights earned a 26-24, 25-21, 25-21 nonleague win on Wednesday night.
Laguna Beach suffered its fifth loss in its last six matches, but all of them have been competitive. The Breakers began that stretch with consecutive five-set defeats against Dana Hills, Aliso Niguel, Tesoro and San Clemente.
Laguna Beach broke that losing streak with a four-set win at Sage Hill last Thursday.
“We like to compete at the highest level, and that’s why we scheduled Foothill,” Patchell said. “That’s a really good team. They’re one of the top teams in Division 1.”
Parallels can be seen to Laguna Beach’s time in the Orange Coast League. The matches prior to league have introduced the Breakers (2-5) to playoff-level competition.
Although the Sunset League should offer a higher level of competition in it of itself, the Breakers remain the overwhelming favorite to claim the first seed in the Wave Division, which is also comprised of Newport Harbor, Fountain Valley and Marina.
League crossover play begins Thursday, with the Breakers traveling to take on Edison (11-9), from the Surf Division, at 5:45 p.m.
In Wednesday night’s match, the Knights (15-3) were led by Rachel Fairbanks, who had 10 kills to go with 15 assists, two service aces and 1½ blocks. Eliza Cannon added 18 assists and seven kills, while Kelsy Rasmussen had 11 kills and three blocks.
Laguna Beach passed well in the first set, and it allowed the Breakers to play on top of the net. Naess had a big opening game, leading her team with five kills.
The blocking of Rasmussen inspired a comeback for the Knights. Her third block of the night clinched an extended first set.
Rasmussen’s reign continued in Game 2. She had kills on five of the last six points won by the Knights in the second set.
“I just take each swing and use it to my advantage to do the best that I can with each swing,” Rasmussen said. “I swing smart and try to beat their defense.”
Soren Patchell finished with 20 assists for the Breakers, despite popping out more as a hitter in Game 3. Sophia Reavis had four kills, and Jackie Strawn had three kills, two aces and one block.
Ella Tyus had seven of her nine kills over the final two sets for the Breakers. The sophomore outside hitter commented on her team’s ongoing struggles in close matches.
“I think we keep up with them, and then we break down at the last moment, but we’re always fighting,” Tyus said. “We’re leaving it all out there, but it’s just a few crucial plays that just change everything.”
To Tyus’ point, junior Cambria Hall sustained a left ankle sprain midway through the first set, but she attempted to return to the match in Game 2. Hall was unable to continue, but Patchell said after the match that she intended to suit up and play against the Chargers on Thursday.
“That’s 100% her,” Patchell said of Hall. “She has a heart of a lion. I wanted to see if we could [play through the injury]. Sometimes, the best thing to do is just play on it, and she couldn’t go.
“That kind of hurt us. She’s been our sparkplug.”