With only one player graduated and a pair of returning All-County first teamers in 6-foot-1 outside hitter Ashlyn Herlihy and senior setter Alaina Hogeboom, the Arroyo Grande High girls volleyball team entered this year primed to extend its double-digit league winning streak.
And that was before 6-foot middle hitter Emily Sonny’s family moved to town from Orange County.
“She walked in the gym and it instantly made us better,” Eagles coach Ernie Santa Cruz said. “It gave us a two-headed monster.”
That two-pronged attack was on full display Thursday night at San Luis Obispo, as Herlihy notched 13 kills and Sonny was right behind her with 12 in a 25-17, 25-19, 25-18 sweep over the Tigers.
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“Ashlyn is a great player, and it’s great having someone else to rely on,” Sonny said. “It’s not just me all the time.”
Hogeboom did her part, too, dishing out 41 assists to increase her season total to 394. “She knows who to set,” Santa Cruz said. “Or at least she should know who to set by now to get her assists.”
Sonny’s arrival has meant one more heavy hitter for Hogeboom to target.
“It just adds so much power and strength to our team,” Hogeboom said of Sonny’s addition. “Not only is she a great hitter, but she can pass like no other.”
Holland Boege had 12 kills for San Luis Obispo (10-4, 2-1 PAC 8) and Merissa Brancart notched 22 assists, 14 digs and three aces, but it wasn’t enough to stop Arroyo Grande from winning its 29th straight league victory.
“We’re psyching ourselves out,” said Boege, a junior who entered the match with a team-high 130 kills. “Sure, A.G. is a good team, and they have good offensive players, but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t keep up there with them.”
The two teams played a close first set until five straight Eagles points, punctuated by a pair of Sonny kills to put them ahead 24-16. The senior put the finishing touches on the set two points later with a kill from her spot in the middle to the back right corner of the Tigers’ zone.
“It kind of just puts on added pressure, it being A.G.,” San Luis Obispo coach Manny Carter said. “Their two big hitters did their job. They put balls away. Our big hitter did her job. We just didn’t find offensive production from anywhere else.”
The Tigers jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the second, thanks in part to two straight aces by Brancart and a kill from Liesl Eibschutz. Arroyo Grande stormed back with a six-point run, and a long serve from San Luis Obispo gave the Eagles an 8-7 advantage they never relinquished.
“It was a typical San Luis-A.G. game,” Santa Cruz said. “Everyone gets all hyped up, and it’s never the level of play that you’d hope because it’s all high school nervousness and stuff. “I thought we stayed consistent enough to get through the match.”
Up 14-9, Sonny blistered a shot from the back row that the Tigers’ Callie Hamari — who finished with a match-high 24 digs — was able to dive and get a fist on. The ball came back over the net, and Herlihy was right there to spike it back down.
“(Sonny’s) presence gives us two people to think about,” Santa Cruz said. “Everyone knew we had Ashlyn, and Emily’s just as physical as Ashlyn.”
Brancart won the first two points of the third set also with a kill and an ace, but the Eagles answered with another five-point run sparked by an Eden Mostajo ace and a Herlihy block to go up 9-4.
The Tigers fended off a pair of match points on kills by Kaitlyn Kimball and Tehya Widmann, but Herlihy ended it with an emphatic shot through the back line.
“We can hang with them,” Carter said. “The score may not show it, but I feel next time around, we will make adjustments and different people will set up.”
For San Luis Obispo, which graduated four players from the 2013 squad, Boege said there are positives to take away from Thursday’s result.
“I think it’s just a good learning experience for us,” she said. “Like when we lose two in a row, can we win the next one, you know?
Just working on energy on our side, and what can we do to make the next play better.”
The Eagles (14-2, 3-0) go for consecutive league win No. 30 on Tuesday at home against Paso Robles, having not lost since a sweep at the hands of San Luis Obispo on the road in October of 2011.
“I try not to think about it,” Hogeboom said of the streak, “because then I might jinx it. “But it’s definitely nice.”