The Sage Hill School girls' volleyball team started its Saturday night early. Two hours before the rest of the scheduled CIF Southern Section playoff matches, the Lightning played host to Templeton in the Division 3A quarterfinals.
Sage Hill accommodated a team making the 254-mile drive to Newport Coast. The Lightning made sure to send Templeton home early as well.
Top-seeded Sage Hill swept Templeton, 25-13, 25-14, 25-13, and advanced to the semifinals. The contest played out much like the preview two for the Lightning in the postseason. It was over in three sets, in a little more than an hour's time.
Five hours is how long it took Templeton to arrive at Sage Hill. The trip was the longest this year for Templeton, which is in San Luis Obispo County. And the Eagles' stay ended rather quickly.
"What caught us off guard was the speed of their game was very fast," said Jodi Kelly, Templeton's coach. "The difference was kind of the tempo.
"I was just talking to [Sage Hill Coach Dan Thomassen] and he said [of his team], 'We played exceptionally well tonight.' We've gotten that [response] against several teams. Something about us brings out the best in people."
The postseason is the time of the year Sage Hill (24-5) plays at a high level. Thomassen is trying to guide the school to its third straight section finals appearance.
The Lightning took second in Division 3A last year and first in Division 4AA two years ago. Another title run appears to be in store for Sage Hill.
Thomassen said Sage Hill turned in one of its best performances of the season. Junior outside hitters Kekai Whitford and Halland McKenna led the Lightning with 11 kills apiece, with Whitford adding 13 digs and five service aces and McKenna eight digs and three aces.
Much of their success is due to Maddy Abbott. The junior setter made her usual good decisions, finding Whitford and McKenna, as well as Sage Hill's middle blockers, Juliette Singarella and Sophia Mossman.
The bigs combined to produce 15 kills and they only committed three errors. Sage Hill's size created problems for Templeton (17-7), which shared second place in the Los Padres League.
None of the Eagles' players recorded double-digit kills. Autumn Russell finished with six kills, seven digs and three blocks for Templeton.
"When we're playing with that great energy, [we're tough]," Thomassen said. "I'm not surprised [that we did because] these girls practice like that. They don't expect to walk in the gym and win. They expect to just walk in and work really, really hard, and when they did that tonight. It was fun."
Thomassen bailed out on the post-match celebration a tad early. He planned to drive to Upland to catch Western Christian's quarterfinal home match against Riverside La Sierra. The winner plays the Lightning in the semifinals on Tuesday.
The La Sierra-Western Christian contest was set to begin at 7, and Thomassen looked at the time on his cell. He had 30 minutes to get there.
"I should catch the second [set]," Thomassen said with a smile, knowing his 46-mile drive would be a breeze compared to the 254 miles that awaited Templeton.
Later that evening, Thomassen found out that Sage Hill has to travel for the semifinals. His team is done playing at home. To lead the program to its third straight section final, Sage Hill will have to win at La Sierra (21-5) on Tuesday.