Newport comes alive

NEWPORT BEACH — The shortest player on the Newport Harbor girls' volleyball team sprawled on the court late in the first set.

Momentum was swinging minute to minute against visiting Long Beach Wilson, but at that second there was just one thing on the mind of 5-foot-6 sophomore libero Hunter Jennings.

Jennings just wanted to get her hand under the ball before it hit the court.

At 25-25, the Sailors needed it Thursday night.

Her big dig led to a tip kill from senior Sarah Buckingham, setting up a set point the Tars converted on a Wilson hitting error.

Newport Harbor could dig it too. The Sailors were on the way to a 27-25, 25-21, 25-23 victory in the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division I-AA playoffs.

"That was a good momentum-giver," said Jennings, who finished with a team-high 10 digs, of the 25-25 point.

The No. 4-seeded Sailors (22-11), the defending I-AA and state Division I champions, have momentum as they move into the quarterfinals. They'll play at Redondo Union on Saturday night. Redondo, the co-champion of the Bay League, beat Orange Lutheran in four sets in another second-round match Thursday.

Wilson (14-20) is an established opponent with a star player in junior setter Rebecca Strehlow. The Bruins knocked the Sailors out of the playoffs two years ago. They had been to the CIF quarterfinals every year since 2000, a streak that ended Thursday.

But the Tars played better at the end of each set. In the second, they played better in the middle, opening up an 18-10 lead after junior setter Cinnamon Sary served up six straight points. Wilson could get no closer than three the rest of the way, with Sary's dump on set point giving the Sailors a 2-0 lead.

Sary had eight kills. The first six were all on successful dumps.

"It helps to do it in the beginning," said Sary, who added 18 assists. "A lot of people like to do it late, but I think it's good to do it early."

Coach Dan Glenn trusts Sary to mix it up out of the team's 5-1 offense, where she can play in the front row.

Seniors Maddy Brown and Sarah Buckingham led the team Thursday with 10 and six kills, respectively, and senior Lauren Demos had five kills to go along with four blocks. Senior Tabitha Goff had two aces.

Sophomore Tristen Thompson also had some big kills down the stretch in the third set for the Sailors, who were behind as late as 21-20 before kills from Demos and Thompson. They took a 24-21 lead on another kill from Thompson and converted their third match point on a Wilson net violation.

In a tough CIF division, the Sailors certainly appear to be peaking at the right time. They've won six straight sets since dropping the first set against Dana Hills.

"It's huge," Jennings said. "I think we deserve it because we've kept fighting through everything. It's really exciting and I hope that we can go all the way."

Saelina Dunn had a team-high 10 kills for the Bruins, while Strehlow had eight kills and five blocks in addition to her setting.

Newport Harbor junior middle Alex Holbrook, out for the season, was there Thursday for the first time in a couple matches, eager to cheer on her teammates. Glenn knows plenty of opposing fans will be rooting against his team Saturday night in Redondo Beach.

The Sailors haven't played the Sea Hawks this season.

"It's going to be fun going on the road agaisnt a big crowd and all that," Glenn said. "I enjoy that a lot. But, to advance, we'll have to probably have our best match of the year. That's what it's going to take."

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