The Mission Prep girls volleyball team is heading toward uncharted territory.
The Royals advanced to the finals of the CIF-Southern California region for the first time in school history with a 25-15, 25-22, 25-17 home win over Saddleback Valley Christian on Saturday night.
“We wanted it really bad because this is the farthest Mission Prep has ever gone,” junior outside hitter Andrea Fernandez said. “Just the fact that we could do it and prove that we could was really important to us.”
After starting Tuesday’s quarterfinal match slowly, the Royals came out quickly and left little doubt that they were the superior team Saturday.
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The Royals took a commanding 19-10 lead in the first game, riding the blocking of senior middle hitter Danielle Brescia, who stopped three consecutive Saddleback Valley kill attempts.
“We built a lot of momentum,” Mission Prep coach Michelle Lakey said. “We had a better idea of what their team could do.”
The Warriors came out strong to start the second game.
Saddleback Valley took a 10-4 lead on a kill from the backcourt by Natalie Jaramillo.
But the Royals were able to withstand Saddleback Valley’s best punch. A Brescia kill gave Mission Prep its first lead of the game at 15-14. The teams rallied back and forth before another Brescia kill gave the Royals the lead for good at 23-22.
Lakey said junior setter Deirdre Laird did a good job of finding the right players when the time was right, including finding Brescia on the crucial points in the second game.
“I just tell our setter to look through the net and see who their shortest blocker is and set against them,” Lakey said.
“In years past we’ve had one good hitter and set all the plays for her. Danielle could be that person for us, but we don’t have to have that with this team.”
Fernandez led all players with 10 kills and added eight digs while Brescia added seven kills, six blocks and two aces.The two hitters had the majority of the kills as the rest of the Royals managed just 11 kills combined.
“We had a lot less kills than we usually do in our games,” Fernandez said. “It was more about getting the ball over and eliminating our errors rather than working on kills.”
The Warriors seemed deflated to begin the third game as Kerstin Sanders served Mission Prep to a 9-0 lead.
“We felt like in the second game we started off really weak,” Fernandez said. “So we wanted to finish them in the third game and get it over with. So we came out really strong.”
Playing with nine seniors, Saddleback Valley rallied from a 21-12 deficit for five straight points before the much younger Royals could put it away.
“I have such a young team and they showed such heart and played with such maturity,” Lakey said of her team that carries just two seniors. “They’ve absorbed so much and they really want to get better.”
The win sets up a sectional final against Tri-City Christian (24-14) in Vista on Tuesday night.
The top-seeded Eagles advanced to the final with a 25-10, 25-9, 25-14 victory over Fresno Christian on Saturday.
Win or lose, Lakey said the Royals continue to get better, learning from each match as it moves forward.
“The team this year has improved so much more than any team I’ve ever coached,” Lakey said. “It usually takes years of camaraderie and teamwork to build this kind of play.”