NEWPORT COAST — Six girls' volleyball teams in the CIF Southern Section Division IV-AA playoffs earned first-round byes.
Sage Hill, the No. 4 seed, wasn't one of the lucky teams.
"We didn't [win] the coin flip … for the top seed out of our [Academy League], even though we tied for first," said Coach Dan Thomassen, whose Lightning opened the postseason Tuesday at home.
Even though Sage Hill played Chino, it sure looked like the Lightning had a bye.
In less than an hour, the Lightning easily swept Chino, 25-13, 25-6, 25-9, to advance to the second round. Thomassen expects more of a challenge Thursday against Desert Hot Springs.
"If we're on the road, we know that's a totally different atmosphere," said Thomassen, adding that a coin flip will determine whether Sage Hill will need to travel in the next round.
The Lightning (19-6) used their home-court advantage to jump on Chino, a fourth-place team out of the Mt. Baldy League.
Chino (11-14) made its second straight postseason appearance and it ended in the same round.
At least, Chino didn't need to travel as far as Twentynine Palms as it did last year.
"Our playoff [experience] was better last year," Chino Coach Molly St. Pierre said.
"We knew we would be outmatched before we came here."
Sage Hill's serve proved to be tough for Chino to return. For a three-set match, Thomassen said the Lightning recorded a season-best 21 service aces.
Halland McKenna led Sage Hill with eight aces and Zoe Kreitenberg produced seven aces.
Kreitenberg, a 6-foot-2 middle blocker, usually finishes with more kills than aces. The Army-bound senior contributed five kills.
Maggie Danner's six kills turned out to be a team high. Setters Alayna Lewis and Maddy Abbott fed Sage Hill's big hitters, along with Natasha Sakraney, who had three kills.
"She only set about half the match, but she really made good decisions and moved the ball around, so the other team was on [its] heels," Thomassen said of Lewis, who finished with 15 assists.
"We're getting better at the right time."
Sage Hill plans to make a run at claiming its second section title in the program's history.
Thomassen, who led the school to a section crown six years ago, must guide Sage Hill past three difficult matches.
The Lightning most likely will see fifth-seeded Laguna Blanca in the quarterfinals, then top-seeded Calabasas Viewpoint in the semifinals, and third-seeded St. Margaret's in the finale.
The Tartans, who shared the league title with Sage Hill, are the defending section champions.
St. Margaret's was also one of the six teams receiving a first-round bye.
Thomassen didn't view it as a slight, not getting a first-round bye.
"It was good to play and have a playoff atmosphere," Thomassen said. "Even though it was a team we felt good about, still if you do lose, you're done. Our girls knew that going in."