Walbrecht, Spartans stave off Tigers

SOUTH PASADENA — It was a call from an official that threatened the La Cañada High girls' volleyball team’s Rio Hondo League winning streak in the fifth game of its league-opening match with South Pasadena Thursday.

“We just had the momentum at the time,” said La Cañada Coach Brock Turner, who received a yellow card for arguing the call. “Momentum in a fifth game is huge.”

Thankfully for Turner, La Cañada was able to take back momentum and the match, 25-22, 21-25, 25-14, 19-25, 16-14, on kills from Jenna Gray, Kendall Walbrecht, Lauren Streeter and two decisive South Pasadena errors.

It was an impressive comeback from the Spartans (4-7, 1-0 in league), who have now won 59 straight league matches. It appeared they’d stopped a three-point Tigers run in the fifth game when the referee signaled the Tigers were guilty of a back-row attack, which put the score at 12-11 in favor of La Cañada. The call was quickly reversed, as both teams had to play the point over and Claire Kieffer-Wright capitalized with a kill to give South Pas (5-3, 0-1 in league) the lead, 12-11.

Kieffer-Wright increased the lead to two, 13-11, with another kill. La Cañada battled back with consecutive kills from Gray and Walbrecht before a Samanatha Figueroa kill forced match point for South Pasadena, 14-13.

With a victory close at hand, uncharacteristic errors plagued South Pasadena. A Tigers service error tied the match for the 35th and final time and Streeter (11 kills, four blocks) put the Spartans up, 15-14, when she spiked a ball that floated up to the net off a South Pas dig. The match ended when the Tigers sent another ball into the net on a hitting error.

“It’s very frustrating, I’m not pleased at all,” South Pasadena Coach Ben Diaz said. “To know we had a game plan, we couldn’t execute on it and my good players didn’t step up is very frustrating. To go out like that, having a chance to win, any coach would be pissed off.”

Walbrecht carried La Cañada’s short-handed offense with a match-high 33 kills. The Spartans came into the match down three starters with senior outside hitter Micaela Anderson and senior middle blocker Katie Pierce out with injuries and libero Madison Teodo out of the lineup to try out for the Rose Court. They also lost starting sophomore middle blocker Megan Arnold when she hit her head in the fourth game and appeared to get knocked out.

“I am proud of my team because we have a lot of our starters injured right now,” said Walbrecht, who added two aces and two blocks, “especially when we had our middle get injured and we had to change around the rotation. It was really hard, but I am glad we pulled through.”

No team could create much space for itself in the deciding game, which included eight ties and five lead changes, as the Spartans took the first two-point lead, 7-5, on a kill from Kendall Walbrecht.

La Cañada increased it’s advantage to three, 11-8, on a kill from setter Leigh Sclafani and a South Pas hitting error. The Tigers rallied back to the game at 11 off kills from Figuero and Claire Kieffer-Wright and a Spartan service error.

The Tigers relied on Kieffer-Wright for 17 kills, which tied Figueroa for team-high honors, five blocks and three aces, but they also got a good match from Figueroa and Sophia Hathaway (15 kills, two aces).

The first game was a clear sign Thursday’s match would be tightly contested, and that Walbrecht would be asked to do a lot for the Spartans with two of their big hitters missing. Walbrecht notched La Cañada’s first four points in an opening frame that featured 11 ties and six lead changes.

“It’s difficult, but I just have to strategize and put the ball where they’re not,” said Walbrecht of carrying the load offensively. “I was trying to do different things to change it up and get more kills.”

No team held more than a four-point lead in the game with South Pasadena going up two, 22-20, on a three-point run that all came on La Cañada errors. The Spartans bounced back and didn’t give up another point — with Walbrecht tallying two kills in the run — en route to a 25-22 victory.

The second game was just as tight with 12 ties and six more lead changes. South Pasadena pulled out the win, as it used a late 5-0 run to force game point, 24-20. Kieffer-Wright tallied two kills in the run and notched an emphatic game winner, which elicited loud cheers from the home crowd as it was the first game the Tigers had won against La Cañada since 2006, according to MaxPreps.com.

South Pasadena wasn’t content with merely a game victory, as it won the fourth game after La Cañada took the third one handily. The Tigers used two 4-0 runs in the middle of the frame to go up 19-13 en route to a victory, 25-19, that was capped off by consecutive kills from Figueroa.

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