The Arroyo Grande High girls volleyball team lost two of the best players in the county to graduation last season — Millisa Morrow, who’s now studying at Cal Poly, and Alyssa Koenig, who’s playing volleyball collegiately at Utah.
But the Eagles haven’t lost much of a step as they swept Nipomo 25-23, 25-13, 25-11 Wednesday in a nonleague match in Arroyo Grande.
The Titans (2-2) took the upper hand early with a 15-10 first-set lead. Nipomo’s lineup features two 6-foot-1 senior hitters in Sam Baker and Taylor Nevitt.
Baker pounded two kills early on, and Mercedes Rodriguez recorded two consecutive aces with well-placed, floating serves to build the early lead.
Baker finished with six kills and 11 digs, and Rodriguez had four aces and 18 digs.
But the Eagles (2-1) kept their composure, chipping away at the margin to make it 15-13 on a Jamie Walsh kill.
Arroyo Grande sophomore Ashlyn Herlihy, also 6-1 and one of the county’s top freshmen last year, slammed one of her 12 kills to pull Arroyo Grande within 16-15.
Jennifer Johnson rattled off seven straight points on serve for the Eagles, but later in the game, the Titans rallied from a 24-20 deficit to pull within 24-23, and Eagles coach Ernie Santa Cruz called a timeout.
The Eagles squeaked out the first set on the next point when a lob over the net after a rally found a gap in the Titans’ defense.
“We weren’t as focused as we needed to be in that first set,” Santa Cruz said. “They came out ready to play.”
After losing the early lead, the Titans never regained their rhythm in the next two sets as the Eagles displayed crisper passing and handled a number of powerful spikes on defense while their big hitters starting booming shots.
Leading the way, Megan McGuigan, Arroyo Grande’s only senior, had a match-high 15 kills, and junior Kacee Fox had 24 digs and three aces.
“Millisa and Alyssa were really good girls for us last year,” McGuigan said. “Ashlyn is really good and gets us some great kills. It’s a lot of fun to play outside hitter this year (after playing middle blocker last year).
“We’re really excited about the season.”
McGuigan had five kills in each of the three sets, and Santa Cruz credited her consistency. The Eagles coach also said Fox was instrumental in the win.
“Kacee really held us together,” Santa Cruz said. “Her passing and defense was a product of her focus.”
Nipomo setter Megan Penaflor had 14 assists, and Nevitt had four kills, nine digs and a block.
Throughout the match, Arroyo Grande setter Alaina Hogeboom mixed up higher arcing sets with lower placed balls for slams down the middle, typically for Herlihy.
“Every day we work on court positioning,” Herlihy said. “We work on chemistry and timing. Last year, I was just a freshman trying to do my part. This year, it’s a whole lot different.”
Herlihy said the Eagles got off to a slow start, but some adjustments made the difference and they knew they had to keep the ball short.
“Nipomo plays girls more in the back, so we were trying to keep our shots closer to the front,” Herlihy said.
“A.G. really played hard,” Nipomo coach David Cassidy said. “Sometimes though, we’re our own biggest enemy. We’ll have three days to work on some things and get better.”
Cassidy credited the tandem of twins Marisa and Mercedes Rodriguez for combining for 37 digs and helping keep the Titans in some long rallies with the Eagles. Cassidy also tried different combinations to test his squad.
“This is what the preseason is all about, to see what these girls can do under pressure,” Cassidy said.