SAN DIMAS — As the players from the Sage Hill School girls' volleyball team pounded kills and aces, a proud father sat in the stands holding up a sign with one word at San Dimas High on Thursday night.
Billy Whitford held it up above his head, "Believe," a word that is usually reserved for the underdog, but it certainly applies to the highly regarded Lightning.
Sage Hill believes it can live up to its No. 1 seeding in the CIF Southern Section Division 3A playoffs. The Lightning (23-5) took one step closer with a 25-19, 25-11, 25-10 second-round victory over the Saints.
Whitford's daughter, Kekai, helped with the effort, recording 11 kills and eight digs, as Sage Hill advanced to the quarterfinals. The Lightning won the pre-match coin toss and will play host to Templeton Saturday at 7 p.m. Templeton defeated Loma Linda Academy in five sets Thursday night.
"It's my Grandma's sign; she wasn't able to come tonight," Kekai Whitford said of her grandmother, Corki. "[Believe], that's kind of our motto this year, believing in each other, believing each point, even though we are on the road. It's kind of our mentality."
Corki will most likely be there Saturday night at Sage Hill's gym, also known as "the Uebe," named after Peter Ueberroth. Kekai Whitford wants her Grandma to follow her all the way to the championship.
Kekai Whitford, a junior outside hitter, said the Sage Hill girls believe they can reach the championship match and capture the crown.
"But we take it step-by-step," she said. "We don't want to get ahead of ourselves. But we believe it and we work our butts off in practice. We want to get there."
The Lightning, the Academy League co-champions, showed their determination in each set. The Saints (12-8), the Valle Vista League champions, gained a bit of momentum in the first set, but Sage Hill dominated for the most part.
San Dimas went on a 7-0 run in the first set to rally from a 19-10 deficit. But the Lightning finished the set by outscoring the Saints, 6-2.
Sage Hill opened the second set with a 6-0 lead and the second set with an 11-0 advantage. The Lightning used a strong passing game and were impressive with their serve to overpower the Saints.
Senior Allie Mowrey led the way with 11 of Sage Hill's 19 aces. The libero also had five digs. Maddy Abbott, Sage Hill's junior setter, amassed 32 assists and four aces.
Junior outside hitter Halland McKenna was also a key player with nine kills and nine digs, while junior middle blocker Juliette Singarella had eight kills and five digs.
Because the Lightning don't have length, they rely on accurate passing, Sage Hill Coach Dan Thomassen said. Mowrey, McKenna and Abbott stood out with their passing against the Saints, Thomassen said.
With regard to the service aces, several of them clipped the net before dropping on the Saints' side and frustrated the home team.
Thomassen said his team doesn't practice clipping the net, but the girls do try to serve low.
Mowrey was virtually perfect with that concept in the third set when she served for 11 straight points. She recorded five aces, including three that clipped the net.
Billy Whitford seemed to hold up the "Believe" sign a little higher and shook it.
"We don't talk too much about it, but we talk about confidence but not being overconfident," Thomassen said of the "Believe," mentality. "We know we have to come out and play our best each match. We weren't perfect tonight but we were very, very good."
San Dimas Coach Jeff Pang said he knew Sage Hill would be hard to handle. He liked the way his team battled in the first set because the Saints were also passing well. But San Dimas, which beat Rialto Carter in five sets in the first round, could not stay with the Lightning.
"We were very focused," Kekai Whitford said. "This is a stepping stone to get to the next round. We took it very seriously. We just wanted to play well tonight."