Girls' Volleyball: Sage Hill survives five-game thriller

RIVERSIDE — It was a position the Sage Hill girls' volleyball team didn't want to be in Saturday night in the CIF Southern Section Division 3-A quarterfinals.

After holding a two-game advantage the Lightning found themselves going into a fifth game in a hostile environment at La Sierra High. Without any momentum, the visitors found a way to bounce back for the roller-coaster victory, 25-13, 25-15, 15-25, 14-25, 15-10.

"Seriously, there's no words to describe this match," said Sage Hill outside hitter Halland Mckenna, who finished with a team-high 21 digs, 10 kills and six aces. "We thought we had it in the first two games and in the next two games it was like we were playing a completely different team. Then it hit us, if we don't get this right this could be the last game of the season."

The third-seeded Lightning looked to be on the verge of a sweep after winning the first two games convincingly, but the Eagles had other plans – taking the third and fourth games in just as impressive fashion to force a fifth and deciding game.

Sage Hill had a host of things to overcome in the match, as it arrived at La Sierra (23-5) just 15 minutes before the scheduled start time after it hit traffic and originally showed up to the wrong school.

"It's playoff volleyball, you know, the big momentum swings," Sage Hill Coach Dan Thomassen said. "We had an ordeal just getting here with traffic and we went to the wrong school. The girls were so composed, though. I am not surprised, this group can deal with anything."

Thomassen said the victory puts Sage Hill in a semifinal road match with No. 2 Ontario Christian Tuesday.

It looked like the season was about to be over for the Lightning (25-6) in the middle of the final frame Saturday. They found themselves down, 7-3, after committing four errors early on. Thomassen called a timeout to regroup his team, and got the response he was looking for, as Kekai Whitford and Maggie Danner scored the next two points for Sage Hill on a kill and ace, respectively, to cut the deficit to two.

The wave of momentum seemed to be short lived on another unforced error from the Lightning, but they rebounded behind a kill from Mckenna and two big blocks from Whitford (19 digs, seven kills, two blocks, two aces) to tie the game at 8 and force a La Sierra timeout.

Sage Hill libero Allie Mowery kept up the attack with an ace out of the break and notched another one two plays later, as her serve hit the net and rolled over onto the Eagles side of the court to cap a 6-0 Lightning run that put them up, 11-8.

"I ran in, took the ball and just thought I had to keep it in," Mowrey said of her thought process. "From there, I let the energy of my team and the adrenaline take over."

Dasia LaBrie looked to lead La Sierra back, as she powered down a kill, but an Eagles service error led to another ace from Whitford and yet another timeout from the home team.

Danner finished tied with La Sierra's Kali LaBrie for the match high in kills with 17. Danner added 12 digs and three aces. Sage Hill setter Maddy Abbott kept the Lightning's offense moving with 42 assists and four kills.

Kendy Klumb kept hope alive for La Sierra with a block out of the break to cut Sage Hill's advantage to three, 13-10, but a kill from McKenna and an Eagles net violation rather anticlimactically ended a thrilling match.

Thomassen wasn't about to complain, though.

"We just lost momentum," he said of his team's struggles in the third and fourth games. "I wish I could have flipped the switch earlier, but luckily it happened about a third of the way through the fifth game."

Twitter: @TCNShortall

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