SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — Outside of the gym, Coach Dan Thomassen gathered his Sage Hill School girls' volleyball team. A huge banner at St. Margaret's hung in front of the Sage girls with the words: "SENIORS, THE CLASS THAT ENDS IT ALL."
For three Sage Hill seniors, Tuesday night marked the end of a long losing streak at St. Margaret's.
Thomassen said Zoe Kreitenberg, Natasha Sakraney and Alayna Lewis dreamed of winning at St. Margaret's. The trio pulled it off in their final year with the Lightning.
Sage Hill, ranked No. 4 in the CIF Southern Section Division IV-AA poll, upset the top-ranked Tartans, 25-16, 19-25, 25-20, 25-17. The victory moves the Lightning into a first-place tie at 5-1 with defending league champion St. Margaret's.
Four league matches remain before the league title is decided.
"This one was even bigger than a league title for us," Thomassen said. "Our seniors had never won here. We hadn't beaten them since their freshmen year at our place. It's a rivalry, but … they've had the better of us the last few years. Plus, they're CIF defending champions."
The Lightning ruined the Tartans' homecoming. A big crowd showed up to watch St. Margaret's start the second part of league against Sage Hill.
Sage Hill bounced back after dropping the league opener at home to the Tartans in four sets last month. The two rivals went four again and each set was tight.
The difference in who won this time around was easy when you asked St. Margaret's Coach Susie Maga.
"They played without fear," Maga said of the Lightning.
The veterans weren't the only players making plays for Sage Hill in crucial moments. Freshmen Halland McKenna and Maddy Abbott rose to the occasion with sets on the line.
McKenna, an outside hitter, led the Lightning with 17 kills and she added eight digs and six service aces. Abbott, a setter, finished with 35 assists to go along with seven aces.
The biggest aces by Abbott clinched the third set for Sage Hill. With McKenna tying the set at 20-20 with a kill, it was Abbott's turn to serve. She never stopped, dropping three aces as the Lightning scored the set's final six points.
"That was a huge springboard for us," Thomassen said.
The momentum stayed on Sage Hill's side in the fourth set.
Maggie Danner started things with an ace, and then Kreitenberg and Sakraney went to work.
Kreitenberg, a middle blocker, hammered two of her 11 kills, and Sakraney pounded a cross-court kill. Sakraney, an outside hitter, finished with eight kills.
Sage Hill went ahead, 14-8, forcing the Tartans to call a timeout.
The break didn't slow down the Lightning.
When play resumed, they increased their lead by as many as eight points. McKenna strung together four kills and Sage Hill was six points away from storming the court.
Sakraney delivered the last point, on a kill. The Lightning celebrated together and their fans, who made the trip to San Juan Capistrano, joined in.
The win against St. Margaret's was the fourth in eight years under Thomassen and the first at St. Margaret's in six years.
"Four times in eight years is not a lot," said Thomassen, whose team's previous wins against the Tartans came in the section title match in 2005, once in league play in 2005 and 2008, which both led to Sage Hill and St. Margaret's sharing the league title those years.
"When another team's got the better of you for this long, and you know we have a talented team, great freshmen, sophomores and juniors that are really raising the level, you don't get many opportunities like this. [The seniors] wanted to make the most of it."