LA CAÑADA — Ernest Banaag came into the season looking to restore the rich tradition of the Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy volleyball team.
The Tologs’ second-year coach looked at it as a two-step process of being competitive in the Mission League and making a deep run in the playoffs.
While Flintridge Sacred Heart saw its playoff journey end just short of reaching the CIF Southern Section Division I-A championship match Tuesday night, Banaag considered the season successful.
“I came here to put Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy on the map and I think we've done that,” Banaag said after top-seeded La Salle recorded a 15-25, 25-21, 25-19, 25-21 semifinal victory against fourth-seeded Flintridge Sacred Heart in front of a rollicking full house. “I think we just had an amazing season and we got so much accomplished.
“We are a better team now then we were when we started the season. It only bodes well for the program moving forward.”
La Salle, the defending champion, improved to 29-5 and will meet Harvard-Westlake in the championship match at 5 p.m. Saturday at Santiago Canyon College in Orange. The Tologs, who split the league title with Harvard-Westlake and were eyeing their first CIF title since 1997, finished 26-5 after reaching the semifinals for the first time since 2007.
Flintridge Sacred Heart, which opened the postseason with victories against Ayala, Thousand Oaks and El Dorado, appeared to catch La Salle off guard in the first game. The Tologs led the entire way and built a 22-11 lead on a kill by Sophia Coffey.
Flintridge Sacred Heart, which received 41 assists from Coffey and 21 kills from freshman Kayla Lund, had momentum on their side until La Salle displayed its championship pedigree and experience during the last three games.
“La Salle is a great team,” Banaag said. “We knew they would make a comeback.
“I told the team after the first game that lets carry it on because that's the only way you can beat La Salle.”
The Lancers, who won the Del Rey League championship and reached the semifinals with a victory against Aliso Niguel, methodically began to chip away at the Tologs' momentum and quieted the crowd.
La Salle, which defeated Flintridge Sacred Heart in four games during nonleague play, jumped out to an 8-3 lead in the second game on a kill by the University of Michigan-bound Caroline Knop (team-high 21 kills). Back came the Tologs, who knotted it at 14 on a kill by Maddie Peterson. A block by Ally Clapp pulled the Tologs to within 21-20, but the Lancers closed out on a 4-1 run to even the match at one game apiece.
A kill by Knop gave the Lancers a 14-13 lead in the third game. She then recorded another kill to make it 22-17. The Tologs could get no closer than 22-18. Haley DeSales had four of her 18 kills in the pivotal third game.
“Haley was just too much,” said Banaag, who got 23 digs from Emily Develle and 13 kills from Katie Conley. “She's just a very smart player.”
In the fourth game, La Salle raced to an 11-3 lead. The Tologs mounted a late comeback bid, closing to within 22-20 on an ace by Clare Lund. La Salle put the finishing touches on the match by going on a 3-1 run, with Knop notching kills for ever La Salle point.
Coffey, a junior setter, said the Tologs make numerous strides.
“We definitely grew up a lot and we really thought we could take that fourth game and see what could happen in a fifth,” Coffey said. “We gained a lot of experience and we know what it's like to play in front of a huge crowd.”
Lund said she also gained valuable experience during her first postseason appearance.
“We can be proud for coming as close as we did [to getting to the championship match],” Lund said. “I've grown up tremendously.
“The whole team improved.”