PASADENA — Entering this year’s girls’ volleyball playoffs, St. Monica Academy was in a new division, had a new coach and a new opportunity to make a postseason run.
However, the opportunity proved brief, although the Crusaders still finished their season with a sense of satisfaction.
“[My team] got to experience what its like to play a level above what we started the year off [at],” St. Monica Academy coach Christie Roniger said. “I think we attained our goal. We didn’t get the win, but we attained our goal.”
Visiting South El Monte swept St. Monica Academy, 25-22, 25-9, 25-14, in the CIF Southern Section Division VIII first-round playoff match at New Revelation Baptist Church on Thursday.
Even in defeat, the Crusaders were still smiling afterwards.
“I think this was our best game that we played all season as a team,” Crusaders senior Grace Brady said. “I had a lot of fun today. It was just a great opportunity to play good volleyball and I’m going to miss it.”
The first set was the most competitive of the three for St. Monica Academy (14-10-1), which won the International League championship. South El Monte (13-5; No. 2 from the Mission Valley League) held its biggest advantage of the game at 19-12. But after that, the Eagles had errors on six of the next seven points. Following that, Crusader Karinna Turicchi put down a kill from her position in the middle to pull the hosts within 20-19.
The Eagles notched the next two points on St. Monica errors, but then Turicchi got another kill in the middle. An Eagles mishit followed and the Crusaders were back within 22-21. However, Eagles Maria Bejines pushed the ball over for a kill to regain control. The junior finished the game with a kill rocketing off the Crusaders block.
“I wanted to see the girls play fun volleyball in a serious way and they did, especially the first set,” Roniger said.
Throughout the match, St. Monica had no answer for the powerful hitting of Bejines from the outside. She finished with a match-high 14 kills, including seven in the opening game.
“We worked a lot the past week and a half on coming up against a player like that,” Roniger said. “I just wanted the girls to not let that shut them down, to continue to play and to make them earn every point. I think they were ready for a player like that, but it was skill level versus skill level.”
St. Monica Academy was led in kills by the tandem of Brady and Katherine Golbranson, who each had six. Turicchi had three kills.
South El Monte ran away in the second set. The visitors scored the first 11 points before a kill by McCall ended the run. The final margin of victory of 16 was the Eagles’ largest advantage of the contest.
South El Monte also jumped out in front of the third set. The Eagles scored the first five points before a kill from the middle by Brady put St. Monica on the board at 5-1. The Crusaders would never be closer than four, as the Eagles cruised the rest of the way.
Despite the first-round exit, St. Monica Academy can count the season as a success. The Crusaders finished on top in league after finishing second last season to end a streak of seven straight league crowns.
“We’ve come a long way from the beginning,” Brady said. “Last season we lost our league streak, so that was a big blow. This season we came back and took our league undefeated. We’ve just come a long way and I’ve grown so close to my whole team.”