Trailing two sets to none in the CIF Southern Section Division II girls’ volleyball championship match, Esperanza coach Isaac Owens kept his message to the team very simple.
“I told them to find a way to win the next game,” he said. “If you win a game all of a sudden they’re going to worry and we can ride the momentum.”
The Aztecs took the third game as their coach asked and his prediction about the momentum held true.
Esperanza got on a roll behind star junior hitter Elyse Stowell, helping the Aztecs push through two more sets to complete an emotional comeback win to secure the Division II title over Murrieta Valley, 22-25, 17-25, 25-21, 25-15, 15-7, for their first title since 2005.
“I’m actually really impressed that we fought and came back in this setting because we’re so young,” Owens said. “Our impact players are two juniors and two freshmen, so it says a lot about our character.”
Owens said the key to the turnaround started in the third set with a small adjustment made by the coaching staff.
“At the beginning of the third game I started a different rotation just to change something,” he said. “We had to make them look at something that looks different.”
The next key ingredient to the comeback was the aggressiveness and playmaking of Esperanza’s outside hitters, Stowell and freshman Julia Waugh.
The Aztecs chipped away at Murrieta Valley on the outside in the third set, but Stowell took over in the fourth, recording kills on seven consecutive points as Esperanza (30-7) continued to build its confidence.
“The thing I like the most about Elyse [Stowell] is even though she’s probably the best player on our team, she works as hard as anybody,” Owens said. “That makes it rewarding to be around her.”
Stowell recorded a match-high 35 kills with a 29.5 hitting percentage and added 28 digs. for good measure. Stowell was supported by Waugh, who added 22 kills and 23 digs to the Aztecs’ cause.
Clara Stowell and Taylor Jones combined for 36 assists and always seemed to be in the right spots for the Aztecs.
Rachael Yelenich paced Murrieta Valley (27-9) with 25 kills. Senior setter Kimberly DeBoer dished out 37 assists despite injuring a thumb early in the fourth set.