Huntington Beach High girls' volleyball coach Craig Pazanti knew that in order for his team to have success in Tuesday's Sunset League showdown against top-ranked Los Alamitos, the Oilers would have to prevent the Griffins from taking the early lead.
"It's something we worked on in practice for the past 2 1/2 weeks, since we last played them," he explained after Tuesday's match. "We had a game plan set but we didn't execute on any of those things we had worked on."
In a match that determined the 2013 Sunset champion, visiting Los Alamitos took command early and went on to claim the crown by sweeping the Oilers, 25-18, 25-21, 25-17.
The Griffins, the No. 1-ranked team in CIF Southern Section Division 1-AA, never trailed in the first or third sets and also took the early lead in the second set in improving to 27-5.
Los Alamitos figures to receive the No. 1 overall seed when the CIF Southern Section Division 1-AA pairings are released Saturday.
Huntington, which was seeking its first Sunset League title since 2000 — the Oilers did win a league title in 2009 when they were part of the Sea View League, lost on its home floor for the first time this year in slipping to 24-6.
"Getting out to a quick start was our whole game plan," Pazanti said. "We just never got anything going early in any set. Give Los Al credit, they played well and blocked really well.
The Griffins scored the first four points of the match. They later used a 6-0 run in the first set to pull out to a 13-3 lead. Huntington closed to within four at 19-15 on a double-block at the net by senior middle blocker Ally Forsberg and senior opposite Kendra Koelsch, but Los Alamitos scored the next five points, including two points from senior outside hitter Crissy Jones, to take the lead to 22-15.
A net violation call against the Oilers ended the set which the Griffins won, 25-17.
There were 16 tie scores in the second set, and Huntington took its final lead at 20-19 on a point in the middle from sophomore middle blocker Samantha Brennan. A kill from the left side by Jones, followed by a net violation call against the Oilers, allowed the Griffins to take the lead for good at 21-20.
A monstrous kill from the left side by Jones finished a 25-21 set win for the Griffins.
The Oilers played from behind the entire third set as Los Alamitos jumped out to a 5-0 lead. They could get no closer than three the remainder of the set. Another kill, this one from the right side by Jones, gave the Griffins a 25-18 win and the league title.
Koelsch had 10 kills to lead Huntington.
Jones landed 15 kills and Griffins senior outside hitter Annie Hale had 13 kills.
Huntington will take the No. 2 seed from the Sunset League into next week's CIF Southern Section playoffs which start Nov. 12.
"It's been a great season so far, and now, it's a new season," Pazanti said of the impending playoffs. "We can put this one behind us and work to get hot over the next week and a half."
Boys' Water Polo
The Sunset League title was decided Wednesday when Huntington Beach took on Newport Harbor. The score wasn't available at press time. Both the Oilers, tied for No. 9 in CIF Southern Section Division 1 and 20-8 overall, and the third-ranked Sailors, were 4-0 in league entering the game.
In other Sunset finales Wednesday, Marina faced Edison, and Fountain Valley played Los Alamitos.
Huntington set up Wednesday's showdown by defeating Los Alamitos, 7-5, Oct. 30. The Oilers led, 4-2 a the half, and 5-2 in the third quarter before the Griffins' scored three straight goals to tie the score (5-5) heading into the fourth quarter.
The Oilers' defense held the Griffins scoreless in the fourth.
Huntington goalie Alex Wolf blocked two five-meter shots and had 16 saves for the match. Sophomore James Vlachonassios netted three goals on offense.
"Our mentality going into this game was that it was just another one," Huntington Coach Brian Anderson said. "While the game had significance, we played each possession like it had a history and life of its own. If our guys focus on the process instead of the result, like they did against Los Alamitos, then we are going to have lots of success overall.
"I am proud of my guys. This is second time they beat Los Al this year. We never consistently beat that team when I went to Huntington Beach, and I am happy they get to experience that feeling."
The Oilers competed last weekend at the Steve Pal Memorial Tournament, and took fourth place in the 32-team event. They defeated Los Altos (13-2), Santiago (9-8) and Clovis Buchanan (10-3), and lost to Santa Margarita (8-7) and Goleta Dos Pueblos (10-9).
Edison broke into the win column in Sunset League play Oct. 30 by turning back rival Fountain Valley, 13-7. The Chargers (1-3) led, 5-2, but the Barons (1-3) fought back to tie the score, 5-5, at halftime.
Edison then scored five consecutive goals to start the second half, and outscored the Barons, 8-2, over the final two quarters.
Justin Harrison scored four goals, Ryan Warde three goals, and Troy Oates, Alec Niederland and Alex Nathan each scored twice.
It was the second win of the season for Edison against Fountain Valley. The teams previously met last month in the Newport Rib Co. Tournament final which was won, 15-6, by Edison.
"The importance of a strong team defense will always fuel our offense, especially on the counterattacks," said Edison's Diggy Riley who, as head coach, has led the Chargers to wins against the Barons in 11 of 12 years. "We really came out and pressed extremely hard in the second half, and that led to some quick goals.
"I was proud of the effort we had, especially on the defensive end. It was an emotional game and we played with poise, a sense of urgency and a ton of energy."
Edison split two nonleague matches against Trinity League teams Mater Dei and Servite. On Monday, the Chargers fell, 17-7, to the Monarchs who are the No. 1-ranked team in CIF Southern Section Division 1. The Chargers came back Tuesday to clip Servite, 13-10, in two overtimes, to win their 20th game of the season.
The Friars are tied for the No. 9 ranking in Division 1 with Huntington and Santa Margarita.
In Tuesday's win, Niederland scored a game-high five goals and had five steals, and goalie Nick Halloran had 12 saves for Edison (20-6). The Chargers trailed Servite, 7-4, at halftime, but outscored the Friars, 9-3, in the second half and through overtime.
Harrison and Dane Estrella both scored twice in Monday's loss to Mater Dei.
"I think our boys knew we did not play very good defense in the first half and it was nice to see them take matter into their hands at the start of the third quarter," Riley said of his team's comeback win against Servite. "As I have preached all season, playing good defense is a state of mind. You either do it or you don't, and when you do play solid tough defense, the offense becomes much easier, evident by our nine goals after half.
"When I had the opportunity to schedule Mater Dei and Servite on back-to-back nights, I didn't hesitate for one second. It's exactly what we needed heading into CIF postseason. At this stage in the season, we will not get any faster, we will not shoot any harder. It's now all about the mental aspect of the game, and getting these boys to understand how to be mentally prepared for big games."
In the other Sunset League game Oct. 30, Marina (0-4) was defeated, 16-4, by Newport Harbor.
Edison qualified for the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs by finishing in third place in the Sunset League. The Chargers played a first-round match Wednesday at Channel League champion Santa Barbara. The score wasn't available at press time.
Second-round playoff action is Friday, the quarterfinals are Monday, and the semifinals are Wednesday.
CIF Weekly Rankings
Football: Edison (No. 4, Southwest Division).
Boys' Water Polo: Huntington Beach (tie-No. 9, Division 1); Ocean View (No. 5, Division 7).
Girls' Cross-Country: Edison (No. 5, Division 1); Marina (No. 11, Division 1).
Boys' Cross Country: Fountain Valley (No. 8, Division 1).