Oaks Christian, a self-described rollercoaster team, turned Saturday's CIF Southern Section Division IIAA quarterfinal playoff match against La Cañada's number-one-seeded playoff team into a rollercoaster game.
The Lions dethroned La Cañada's girls' volleyball team in dramatic fashion, winning, 25-27, 25-23, 14-25, 25-22, 15-11, on a fifth-game tiebreaker.
It was a back-and-forth game. Just when it looked like one team had gained the momentum, the other side stole it back.
"My girls have been [on] a rollercoaster all year and I think that experience has allowed them to play in tough situations, and play out of tough games," Oaks Christian Coach George Hess said.
La Cañada had plenty of chances to put the Lions away, but Oaks Christian kept roaring back. It won the second game, coming back from a 21-17 deficit.
After rolling to a win In the third game, it looked like the Spartans had finally figured out their opponent.
However, that proved to just be another dip on the Lions' rollercoaster ride, as Oaks Christian jumped out to a 10-2 lead in the fourth game before winning it.
"We just kind of sat back in game four," La Cañada Coach Brock Turner said. "I was somewhat surprised by that. I thought we got some momentum for game four but we kind of did the same thing. We couldn't put balls away."
Michele Boskovich and Madison Howard — Oaks Christian's two 6-foot-1 middle blockers — gave La Cañada's outside hitters fits all night, forcing them to adjust their shots and causing the Spartans to uncharacteristically struggle on offense. The Spartans had three kills on 30 attempts in the fourth game and were 58 for 161 on the night.
"That's kind of what stood out," Turner said. "You aren't going to win like that."
Hess said experience was the real game-changer.
"We had a bunch of seniors on the team and they had a bunch of sophomores," Hess said. "We had the more experienced team and we took advantage in game five."
A slow start in the fifth game cost La Cañada again, as it saw the Lions open the stanza on a 9-2 run. The Spartans fought back, bringing the score to 12-10 before falling.
"My girls don't like to make it easy," Hess said. "They like to get in tough situations, but they get the job done."
Kendall Walbrecht led La Cañada in kills, with 18, and Eirene Kim had a team-high 29 digs. Katie Pierce finished with 16 kills and Micaela Anderson had 11 on 59 attempts.
Saturday's loss came after it looked like La Cañada had gotten back on the right track. The Spartans rolled through Bishop Montgomery in the second round of the playoffs Nov. 11, ending the Knights' season in their own gym in three games, 25-14, 25-20, 25-21.
"That's La Cañada volleyball," Turner said after the game against Bishop Montgomery.
The Spartans were unable to repeat that performance against the Lions, falling short of their goal of another CIF Southern Section Division II championship after losing to Elsinore in the finals last year.
"It was a good season but it didn't end like we wanted," Turner said.