COSTA MESA — There is more than a month left and 10 Orange Empire Conference matches remaining in the regular season for the Orange Coast College women's volleyball team.
And while the Pirates, unbeaten and ranked No. 2 in the state, remain tied atop the conference standings with Golden West (both at 4-0) after Wednesday's sweep of visiting Irvine Valley, there are those who believe the Pirates' 2012 Orange Empire title may already be Rigg(s)ed.
Sophomore outside hitter Karlee Riggs pounded a match-high 23 kills to punctuate a 25-18, 25-23, 25-21 triumph that left little intrigue among both coaches, as well as most in attendance, about the biggest weapon in OCC's gym.
"[The Pirates, now 10-0] are just really good," IVC Coach Tom Pestolesi said. "And Riggs can bail them out of a lot of trouble, which everybody knows. No matter where she is, she's got a pretty good chance of scoring. She's good."
Riggs hammered away from the back row, in the middle and at the (outside) pin against the Lasers (8-2, 2-2), ranked No. 11 in the state. Riggs collected eight kills in the each of the final two sets to go with seven in the opening game. She did not have a hitting error until late in the third game and consistently found the floor whether she was hitting off, through, over or between blockers.
"We've had some great outsides, starting with Lauren Wilson and Katja Muller and Kiwi Winkler," OCC Coach Chuck Cutenese said. "And [Riggs] is just that next person in that line. It's great to throw the ball up to her and know that we are going to get an aggressive swing on it."
The Pirates, who now play four straight road matches, including an Oct. 19 date at Golden West, were once again aggressive from the service line against IVC.
And though the Pirates recorded only three aces, their darting and diving float serves, including some that just cleared the net and some that were driven to the back of the court, gave the Lasers trouble.
"They serve as tough as anybody we've ever seen," Pestolesi said of the Pirates. "They hit their areas within a two-square-foot box better than anybody. On top of that, they have a couple good arms and that's a pretty good formula to do well."
Riggs, sophomore setter Allison Lumsden and sophomore opposite Isabel Emrich each had one ace for the winners, who have swept nine opponents this season. The only team to win a game against OCC is Fullerton.
Lumsden collected 37 assists and added five kills, while also contributing six digs, one solo block and one block assist.
Dana Nicholson, a powerful 5-foot-3 sophomore outside hitter, chipped in six kills, while sophomore libero Andi Frisina led the winners with 15 digs.
"Our kids played well," Pestolesi said. "It's always a couple errors late and that was the difference. [The Pirates] are experienced with five or six sophomores out there and that makes a difference. And it's not like they are just sophomores; they are good sophomores."
The match was tied at 1-1, 2-2 and 3-3 until OCC pulled away and never trailed in Game 1.
IVC earned a 6-4 lead in the second game, but held its final advantage in the set at 9-8. IVC pulled even at 23-23, but after a timeout, Riggs deposited a kill from the back row and a Lasers dump attempt drifted wide to keep the hosts on pace to sweep.
IVC scored the first three points of the final game, but OCC, with two kills from Riggs and one by Lumsden, scored five straight and regained control. Once again, IVC made a late surge, pulling even at 18 and 19 and going ahead, 20-19, on a kill by sophomore outside hitter Allison Cook (who had a team-best 14 kills).
But a powerful kill off the block by Nicholson, a strong serve by Emrich that led to a passing error, and another Nicholson bullet off the block, put OCC on top, 23-20, and prompted an IVC timeout.
Emrich, who had five kills, then recorded an ace and a service winner to set up match point.
After an IVC kill, a Lasers hitting error ended the match.
"I think we need to get our middles more involved," said Cutenese, who saw sophomore Morgan Link and freshman Kourtney Chadderdon produce three kills apiece. "I don't think we set them as much as we did in [previous matches]."
But with Riggs, a 5-9 returning first-team all-conference and All-Southern California pick, shouldering the load, there wasn't much heavy lifting required from anyone else.