NEWPORT COAST — The next time the Sage Hill School girls' volleyball team plays at home, the match will be a lot tougher than the one on Tuesday.
Coach Dan Thomassen said the Lightning have 10 days to smooth out the kinks before they return home. His team made quick work of Calvary Chapel, sweeping the nonleague match, 25-22, 25-15, 25-13.
Next for Sage Hill (3-3) is the Dave Mohs Tournament in Huntington Beach. The Lightning have matches on Friday and Saturday, the finale is Monday.
Thomassen feels Sage Hill can make a run at the Division II title. The way the Lightning are treating the tournament is simple.
"Just to get better," Sage Hill senior Zoe Kreitenberg said. "It's our last competition before we compete against St. Margaret's."
Four days after the tournament ends, Sage Hill plays host to St. Margaret's on Sept. 30. The match pits two rivals, two teams ranked in the top three in the CIF Southern Section Division IV-AA poll.
The third-ranked Lightning face the top-ranked Tartans in an Academy League opener. This has never happened before, Thomassen said, both teams opening league against each other.
"The fact that it's home and the fact that it's our first match of league means you start 1-0 or you start 0-1," said Thomassen, who's in his eighth year in charge of the girls. "Even though we think we're one of the stronger teams in league, we don't want to start 0-1."
Getting off to the right start is the key against St. Margaret's, the defending section champion.
The Lightning have done a good job in the beginning of their first five matches. The sixth one was an exception.
"We came out a little flat," Thomassen said.
Sage Hill allowed Calvary Chapel to charge back twice from eight-point deficits in the opening set. The Eagles got within two late before an unforced error ended any comeback.
In the second and third sets, the Lightning took control, jumping out to 7-0 and 5-0 leads, respectively. They never looked back, using depth to become the second Academy League team to sweep Calvary Chapel this season.
The other league team was St. Margaret's. The Tartans opened the season with a 25-17, 25-20, 25-10 home win against the Eagles on Sept. 6.
Compare the scores against Calvary Chapel and St. Margaret's and Sage Hill appear to be even. The two teams have only been even twice, sharing the league title in 2005 and 2008.
The difference between the Lightning and the Tartans might be the strength in numbers.
"The great thing for us this year is we have depth. We have 12 girls that are all contributing," said Thomassen, adding that the total contributions are nothing like the program has ever had.
"The team chemistry and the confidence is the best that we've had."
Kreitenberg, a three-year starter, said the current team is the best she's been a part of at Sage Hill.
Kreitenberg, a 6-foot-2 middle blocker, who's bound for Army, is one of the team's top players. The team also has senior Alayna Lewis, a setter and opposite, and senior Natasha Sakraney, an outside hitter and opposite, and three standout freshmen, setter Maddy Abbott, outside hitter Halland McKenna and middle blocker Kekai Whitford.
Kreitenberg produced six kills, three blocks and three service aces.
Abbott finished with 26 assists and McKenna came off the bench and contributed six kills.
Maggie Danner led everyone with eight kills and five aces.
Danner's older sister, Tierney, was a member of Sage Hill's lone section championship team. The team swept St. Margaret's for the crown six years ago.
Thomassen believes the Lightning can return to the top.
"We play a lot more as a group, where we relied on one or two girls [in 2005] a lot," Thomassen said. "This year, we rely on everybody."