IRVINE — Sage Hill School traveled to Irvine to play Crean Lutheran inside a building some call a sound bubble. It burst Sage Hill's attempt at making history.
No longer can the Lightning finish perfect in Academy League play. Crean Lutheran ruined Sage Hill's run, handing the visitors their first league setback by taking Tuesday's five-set match, 25-22, 23-25, 25-21, 23-25, 15-11.
In a battle between not only the No. 1 and No. 2 girls' volleyball teams in league, but also the top two teams in the CIF Southern Section Division 3-A poll, the No. 2 team barely prevailed. The home fans rushed the court when Crean Lutheran moved into a first place tie with the Lightning in league at 10-1.
There's one league match left for both schools. That is how close Sage Hill came to going undefeated in league for the first time.
Now, the Lightning can aim for a split of the league title with Crean Lutheran. Sage Hill has a tougher climb as it finishes league at home against rival St. Margaret's next week, while Crean Lutheran closes at Brethren Christian on Wednesday.
"Part of it was us and part of it was them," Sage Hill Coach Dan Thomassen said of the result. "They did some good things blocking and defensively. We let them get a little momentum early because we were sloppy. I don't think anything was really clicking or easy for us."
Despite all of that, the Lightning led the decisive fifth set, 8-6. Sophia Mossman's kill gave Sage Hill its biggest lead in the final set.
Then Crean Lutheran outscored the Lightning, 9-3, the rest of the way. The Lightning committed a couple of net violations after Crean Lutheran middle blocker Grace Dimond's fifth block of the night. Brooke Rigoni recorded a service ace for the Saints, and then outside hitter Katie Kyckelhahn put the match away with back-to-back kills.
Kyckelhahn's final kill was a soft one. She led Crean Lutheran with 17 kills, and her 14 digs tied her for second on the team with Dimond and Kayla Scheevel, who added 10 kills.
Defense helped Crean Lutheran, which is in its fifth year on varsity, move closer to winning its first league title. The team, with nine seniors, went back and forth with the Lightning.
The match might have not gone the distance if not for Crean Lutheran stealing the third set. Sage Hill led, 21-16, and appeared to be going up, 2-1, in sets.
Thomassen even put in work after a timeout late in the set. He grabbed a couple of towels one of the referees handed him and began to wipe the floor down near his bench.
When the floor dried up, so did Sage Hill's attack. Crean Lutheran produced the third set's final nine points to take a 2-1 lead.
"That was definitely a pivotal point," Thomassen said. "They had kind of a tough server [in lefty Annalise Carrillo] right there and we just got tight, which is a little unusual for our girls, but we'll learn from it."
Sage Hill bounced back in the fourth set. Kekai Whitford carried the team, finishing with 22 kills and 30 digs, and Juliette Singarella contributed 11 kills.
Setter Maddy Abbott, who amassed 44 assists, kept going to Whitford and Singarella, along with Sophie Gordon (nine kills) and Halland McKenna (eight). It just wasn't enough for the Lightning to avoid a blemish in league.
Sage Hill is looking to claim its third league title in the program's history. The other two crowns the school shared with St. Margaret's in 2005 and '11, the same years Sage Hill went on to win section titles.
"Our girls are going to have to regroup after this, but I know we will," said Thomassen, knowing No. 6 St. Margaret's will play Sage Hill tough, just as it always does. "We have one more league match and hopefully a long playoff run [in us]."