SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — Halland Mckenna used a clapping motion every time she lined up to serve. Her hands never touched because the ball was in the way.
All everyone heard were a couple of loud smacks. In the fifth set, she and Sage Hill School were six points away from putting away St. Margaret's on Tuesday.
The rival schools met for the first time since their meeting in last year's CIF Southern Section Division 4-AA title match. They're still the top two girls' volleyball teams in their new division: 3-A. Like the previous matchup, this one went the distance.
Mckenna tried to finish St. Margaret's, but the players clapping at the end this time around were the Tartans.
The Tartans closed out the fifth set on a 10-2 run to knock off the top-ranked Lightning, 25-15, 14-25, 25-19, 22-25, 15-11, in an Academy League match. St. Margaret's Coach Susie Maga said she didn't want to call it a lucky win, but she did.
She'll take the victory at home. The second-ranked Tartans improved to 2-0 in league.
Five starters from Sage Hill's section championship stood on the other side, shocked. They let one slip away.
The Lightning led, 9-5, in the deciding set before Maga called a timeout. Coach Dan Thomassen explained what happened next to his Lightning (8-4, 1-1 in league).
"We kind of let them back into it," Thomassen said. "We just didn't quite put the pedal to the metal."
The first round of the two-match series between two programs that shared the league title last year went to the home side. It didn't play out that way in league play last year, when the visiting team won each time.
To get back into contention for the league crown, Sage Hill is in a must-win situation at home against St. Margaret's on Oct. 19.
"We lost to them at home last year, so we have a little extra motivation, and this [loss] was a little extra motivation," Thomassen said.
Thomassen figured the Tartans wanted to get revenge after how last season finished. They sure performed like it in the opening set.
St. Margaret's ran away with the first set. The second set played out the same way, except it was Sage Hill winning.
Mckenna and Maggie Danner, Sage Hill's outside hitters, carried the load. Each produced 16 kills.
Kekai Whitford, an opposite, contributed 11 kills for the Lightning.
The final three sets turned out to be the closest. A photographer noticed that the team playing closest to the entrance always won that set.
The Tartans were on that side of the court in the fifth set. They went to work, relying on Peighton McRobie (25 kills, 17 digs) and Gigi Morally (19 kills, 21 digs). The two outside hitters recorded seven kills during the 10-2 run that closed things out.
At one point during the run, there was a do-over because of a fan interference call on a St. Margaret's fan. It stopped the Tartans for a bit, but the fans would soon clap loudly for the players.