COSTA MESA — Nearing the end of a roller coaster season in which his team has run hot, then cold, then hot once again, Orange Coast College women's volleyball coach Chuck Cutenese appeared pleasantly surprised by the overriding steadiness that carried his team to a 25-22, 25-18, 25-19 sweep of visiting Golden West.
The win, in the first round of the Southern California Regional playoffs Tuesday, propelled the No. 7-seeded Pirates into Saturday's regional quarterfinals at No. 2-seeded Los Angeles Pierce.
The victory also extended the defending state champions' winning streak to six matches and upped their record to 16-5. OCC has now won seven straight postseason matches, dating back to last season's state title run.
OCC began the season 9-1, before losing four of its next five matches. The current winning streak, as with the rest of the season, has had more to do with resilience than routine, Cutenese said.
"We've had six different lineups this season," Cutenese said after sophomore setter Kimya Jafroudi delivered 30 assists to move within 47 of tying OCC career record holder Emily Lyon, who amassed 1,749 in 2007 and 2008. "In my 19 years here, I've never had a team, men or women, that had so many different lineups. We're just trying to find the right spots. We made some adjustments with a few girls and it really worked out. It has taken them a while to get used to that system."
Cutenese said freshman Katherine Wichner (six kills Tuesday) has shifted from opposite to outside hitter. Among other changes, OCC has had to replace freshman libero Andi Frisina (blood clot) and freshman kills leader Aimee Melone (foot injury), at various times in the season.
"We went five matches at the beginning of the season with the same lineup, so that was about three weeks," Cutenese said. "We haven't gone longer than four weeks [all season] without changing our lineup."
Freshman outside hitter Katie Bergen and sophomore middle blocker Cathleen Hopkins had 10 kills apiece against the Rustlers (9-13), the Orange Empire Conference rivals who lost nine of 10 games to OCC this season in three matches.
Bergen added a team-best 17 digs, while Hopkins was in on three blocks.
Jafroudi, the MVP of the 2009 state tournament, added three blocks and seven digs, but, like Cutenese and his staff, still has to be learning the preferences of her teammates.
Cutenese said his players will need to learn on the fly against Pierce (25-2), which will present an unknown foe Saturday.
"My young team knows nothing about them and I'm OK with that," said Cutenese, who added that he and his assistants have done their homework on the Brahmas, who did not play the Pirates this season.
Pierce, which swept visiting Long Beach City on Tuesday, posted a commanding three-game nonconference sweep against OCC in 2009.
OCC was less than commanding against Golden West, but came through when needed, rallying from early deficits in all three sets.
OCC was down, 20-17, in the opening game, before pulling even at 20-20, then again at 22-22.
In Game 2, the Rustlers led, 10-7, before faltering.
In the final game, Golden West led, 5-1 and 7-2, before OCC reversed things to eventually earn a 19-15 advantage. Golden West pulled within 20-19, before the hosts scored five straight to advance.
"It was our crosstown rivals and the third time we've played [the Rustlers] this season, so the pressure was ours and not theirs," Cutenese said. "So I was pleased."
Sophomore Faith Alliston led the Rustlers with 11 kills.