When Mission Prep senior Jennifer Laird walked into the Arroyo Grande High School gym to face the Eagles’ volleyball team last Thursday, one thing dominated her mind.
“I have to beat them tonight,” Laird said, recalling her thoughts from that night.
Easier thought than done.
Mission Prep had never beaten Arroyo Grande in a girls volleyball match since the schools starting playing each other in 2009, according to school officials, entering Thursday’s game. Arroyo Grande had won at least a share of the last four PAC 8 titles and had dominated Mission Prep since the Royals joined the league in 2014, including in a 3-0 win in September.
In fact, Arroyo Grande had lost just one league match since 2012.
“When we played them every time before, we were like playing A.G. and freaked out a little bit,” Laird said.
In her final shot to beat the volleyball powerhouse this season, Laird — whose nickname is “Boo” — was scary good. The senior and St. Mary’s volleyball commit used her athleticism to amass 18 kills — double that of the highest kill total for any Arroyo Grande player — and Mission Prep swept the Eagles 3-0.
Mission Prep head coach Jessie Holder said the timid team that played Arroyo Grande in September was replaced by a calm group that was clutch at the end of each back-and-forth game.
“I think all 12 girls on each team, that’s the reason we play volleyball, for that game,” Mission Prep senior setter Eleri Perryman said. “I started crying when it was over.”
Perryman said all week the team has been sharing celebration photos in their group chat.
The win propelled Mission Prep (23-5, 9-1 PAC 8) to the No. 9 spot in this week’s CIF-Southern Section poll, gave the team a shot of confidence and moved the Royals into a tie for first place with Arroyo Grande (12-5, 9-1 PAC 8) with three games to go in the season.
“It was almost like our CIF win,” Perryman said. “It’s like, where do we go from here?”
If both teams win out, which is fairly likely based on their remaining schedules, the teams will share a PAC 8 title.
“It’s very possible for a win like we had last week to be like, ‘Oh, we did what we needed to do,’ ” Holder said. “Once we beat A.G., we are the ones with the targets on our backs now.”
Perhaps the biggest test will come in the final game of the season Oct. 20 against a talented Paso Robles squad. Mission Prep will continue to look to the eight seniors on the team, including the passing of Perryman and libero Jeanine Herzoff and the big hitting of middle blocker Maddie Boncich and her twin sister, Ani Boncich.
But make no mistake, Laird is the force that Mission Prep will need most against Paso Robles and down the stretch. So far, Laird has shown she’s up for the challenge.
“(Laird) is determined to be unstoppable,” Holder said.