The vibe around the Laguna Beach High girls’ volleyball practice on Monday was loose and relaxed by design.
Senior captain Gretchen Webb came up with the practice plan, which was filled with loud music, plenty of serving and lots of laughs.
The idea behind the light-hearted preparation was to forget about Saturday’s three-set loss to Sun Valley Village Christian in the CIF Southern Section Division 3 championship match and focus on retooling the mind to make another run, but this time in the CIF State Southern California Regional Division II playoffs.
Webb’s game plan worked wonders for No. 3-seeded Laguna Beach in the first round on Tuesday night. The Breakers defeated No. 14 Palm Desert Xavier Prep 25-18, 23-25, 25-14, 25-23 at home.
The Breakers (19-13) will host No. 6 Quartz Hill (37-6) in the quarterfinals on Thursday. Quartz Hill, the CIF Southern Section Division 4 champion, defeated visiting San Diego Westview, the CIF San Diego Section Division I runner-up, in four sets in the first round on Tuesday.
Laguna Beach coach Shawn Patchell said that his team didn’t dwell on Saturday’s loss for too long and it got back into its groove with ease.
“We had a great practice Monday,” Patchell said. “It was cool to see Gretchen step into that leadership role. We were having fun, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Monday’s carefree attitude turned into a composed calm for the Breakers, who jumped out to a commanding 15-5 lead in the first set over Xavier Prep behind two service aces from Jackie Strawn and the booming swings of Piper Naess and Cambria Hall. Naess finished with a match-high 29 kills, while Hall added 24.
The Saints never got within five points of Laguna Beach the remainder of the opening set. An ace from Mikayla Smith and a huge block at the net from Kendall Fraser sealed Game 1 for the Breakers.
It wasn’t all breezy for Laguna Beach, though, as the Breakers stumbled in the second set despite taking a 20-16 lead. Xavier Prep battled back on two blocks and two kills from Taylor Schein and an ace from Sophia Callahan to tie the match at 1-1. Schein and Golden Hinchen led the Saints with 10 kills apiece.
Laguna Beach got back into its groove in the third set. The Breakers used a quick 7-2 run to extend its advantage to 21-13. Naess had four straight kills during the spurt. Naess and Fraser then combined on a block on the left side of the net to give the Breakers a 2-1 match advantage.
Xavier Prep (29-9) made things difficult in the fourth and final set. The Saints took a 17-15 lead, and then went ahead 19-17 on kills from Sophia Barkett and Jillian Whitcomb, who finished with seven kills.
Laguna Beach stayed poised while trailing and took advantage of a service error by Barkett, turning it into two quick points to take back the lead at 21-20. The Breakers relinquished the lead again, falling behind 22-20, before a kill from Naess and two from Hall off the left side sunk Xavier Prep for good.
Setter Soren Patchell dished out a match-high 41 assists for the Breakers and Strawn came up with four blocks on the night. Freshman setter Natalia Hagopian saw a lot of playing time for the Breakers and came up with 10 crucial assists.
“We’re a well-rounded team and we’ve been through those situations earlier this season,” Hall said of the Breakers’ ability to stay calm under pressure. “We lost some of those, but it taught us how to stay poised.”
DEVIN UGLAND is a contributor to Times Community News. Follow him on Twitter: @Devin_Ugland