Flintridge Sacred Heart volleyball can't overcome Harvard-Westlake obstacle

NORTH HOLLYWOOD — Perhaps it’s not an understatement to say that the Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy girls’ volleyball team ran into its biggest impediment toward a Mission League championship at host Harvard-Westlake.

While the Wolverines’ tall frontline presented several issues for the Tologs, maybe no obstacle was bigger than the “mental road block” Flintridge Sacred Heart seems incapable of overcoming as was evident in a 25-21, 25-13, 25-18 league sweep for Harvard-Westlake on Tuesday evening.

“I don’t want to take anything away from Harvard-Westlake because they are a very talented team. They really do deserve credit for today’s win,” said Tologs Coach Ernest Banaag, whose team dropped to 0-3 versus the Wolverines during his tenure. “Sooner or later, though, we’re going to have to realize that we can compete with this team. It’s like we’re scared or intimidated and you’re not going to win games when you’re afraid of the team you’re playing.”

Flintridge Sacred Heart (9-3 overall, 1-1 in league) entered as the highest-ranked team within the Mission League, which was good for No. 7 in Division I-A, or three spots ahead of the Wolverines (6-6, 3-0), who are currently tied for 10th with Capistrano Valley.

Yet, the Tologs struggled to be competitive throughout the contest, with their best charge coming in the opening game.

The Tologs trailed, 9-5, in the first game before a 5-2 run, fueled by a pair of kills from senior opposite Katie Conley, brought the squad within 11-10.

While Harvard-Westlake responded with a 6-2 spurt, Flintridge Sacred Heart again battled back and closed within 18-16 on consecutive aces from junior Sophia Coffey (29 assists).

The score fluctuated between two and three points until the Wolverines surged ahead with a kill from Nicole El Attrache and a Tologs attacking error to reach game-point, 24-20.

Even though the Tologs countered with a kill from sophomore opposite Ali McCollum, Harvard-Westlake closed out on the next possession thanks to a kill from Jo Kremer, who finished with a match-high 10 kills.

“It seemed like every time we’d get close, they would go on a run and we couldn’t stop them,” said Conley, who led the Tologs with eight kills. “I can’t believe how lazy and bad we played. It’s disappointing.”

The common link for Flintridge Sacred Heart through the first two games was the Tologs’ inability to hold early leads.

Flintridge Sacred Heart held advantages of 3-1 and 4-1 in the first two games, respectively, only to surrender near identical 7-0 and 6-0 runs in which the Tologs gave away the lead for good.

A big component to Harvard-Westlake’s success was a strong frontline rotation of hitters Mia Natsis, Airelle Strom, Kremer and Zoe Baxter, which totaled 10 blocks and was dominant at times.

In the second game alone, the Wolverines frontline accounted for four blocks, while the unit also forced hitters to attempt deeper shots.

Harvard-Westlake scored 13 of the first 20 points in the second game in rolling to a 25-13 victory.

In the clinching game, Flintridge Sacred Heart fell behind by five, but closed to within 11-10 on a kill from senior Rachel Fowler.

Just as it seemed the Tologs had all the momentum, Harvard-Westlake countered by scoring the next seven points, two of which came on centerline violations, in going up, 18-10, and waltzing to the win.

After Conley, freshman Kayla Lund and junior Megan Becall added six kills apiece for the Tologs, who received 21 digs from Emily Develle and 17 digs from Gabby Piccione.

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