La Cañada High was already triumphant in its return to the girls’ volleyball postseason by winning in a first-round sweep.
The Spartans’ reward was a home contest against Ontario Christian, the No. 1 seed in the division.
The Spartans were able to push the Knights, but ultimately fell, 25-19, 26-24, 25-20, in a CIF Southern Section Division III second-round match Saturday.
“I told my team it is very rare that you get to go up against the No. 1 team, a battle-tested team,” La Cañada first-year coach Laura Browder said. “Our kids knew it was going to require our best. I was really proud of their effort because I felt like we made [Ontario Christian] play their best to come and beat us.”
Including Saturday’s win, Ontario Christian (30-3) is now a flawless 22-0 in best-of-five matches, while dropping just three games in that span and never facing a fifth set.
“You know, [La Cañada] is a great team,” said Ontario Christian coach Paige Liebhart, whose team won the Ambassador League championship. “They serve and pass really well and those are tough teams to beat. They have great hitters that hit down the line and I am real proud of my setters and defenders that could dig that ball.”
The bulk of the offense for La Cañada (22-9) came from its outside hitters. Sophomore Olivia Toland tallied 19 kills to lead the way, with many coming in the high-pressure moments. Senior Emily Weirick also reached double digits in kills with 10.
“I think that we gave [Ontario Christian] a huge fight,” Weirick said. “They are No. 1 in the division, so we went into this game not hoping for much, but we fought our hardest and gave them a hard time.”
Middle blocker Claire Kevorkian, also a senior, was next with six kills. Senior Alex Gates set the table with 41 assists for the Spartans.
Tremendous defense was displayed by both sides throughout. La Cañada got 24 digs from junior Claire Saydah. Gates had 15 digs and Weirick recorded 14.
Ally Budde, also a senior, had a team-high four blocks for La Cañada and Kevorkian had two.
La Cañada had a chance to win the second set. The Spartans, who took second in the Rio Hondo League, had a brief lead early on a kill by Kevorkian. However, Ontario Christian took over from there, building an advantage that peaked at four. La Cañada fought back and tied it at 17 after consecutive kills by Toland that careened off the Knights’ block.
The hosts then got up by two, only to see the score knotted again at 19 after an ace by Jenna Holmes. The visitors then built a three-point cushion, but that went away when Weirick tied it at 22 with a kill.
An ace by Toland gave the Spartans a 24-22 lead, but the next serve sailed long. The Knights then pulled ahead and finished things off when Peyton Tazelaar uncorked a kill to the deep corner of the La Cañada side of the court for the match winner.
“I’m going to be honest, it was heartbreaking,” Browder said about the outcome of the second set.
The third set was close at the start, featuring eight ties, the final one coming at 9-9. After that, Ontario Christian pushed ahead and built an advantage as large as seven several times. Ontario Christian had its first match point at 24-18 following a tip by Knight Riley De Groot that found the floor. Toland prolonged the Spartans’ season with two straight kills after which Tazelaar ended with an outside kill.
La Cañada played the match without two of its top players. Senior Sam Meyer was in San Diego competing in a soccer tournament and junior Maya White was out with a leg injury.
The Spartans, who opened the postseason with a road win against Alta Loma, featured five seniors.
“I think this is as close as we have come [together] as a family,” Weirick said. “On senior night, everyone cries, but more people cried at this senior night than ever because everyone fought together and loved each other. So, that is why this end result is so awful for us.”