It was the kind of performance from Kaitlyn Kimball that San Luis Obispo High girls volleyball coach Manny Carter knew the sophomore was capable of ever since he put her in the starting lineup as a ninth-grader last season.
Not just Robin to standout junior Holland Boege’s Batman, but showing the ability to lead the offense while other teams focused on shutting down Boege.
Kimball had a team-high 11 kills, and the Tigers overcame some early errors to defeat Mission Prep 3-1 Thursday in the first meeting between the cross-town rivals since the Royals joined the PAC 8.
“It was one of those things where you know what you can expect from a player, but you’re just waiting for it to click and happen,” Carter said of the 5-foot-8 Kimball. “I think tonight was a good step in that direction.”
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Boege still had 10 kills, Callie Hamari had 25 digs, and Beverly Lincoln had a strong all-around match with six kills, five aces and four blocks from her spot in the middle as San Luis Obispo (17-6, 6-1 PAC 8) ended the first half of the league season with an 18-25, 25-19, 25-17, 25-21 victory.
“We were definitely just ready to get right back to it and come back harder,” said Kimball about dropping the first set, in which the Tigers committed at least 10 unforced errors. “And we did.”
Jennifer Laird had a match-high 14 kills, Madison Boncich had eight of her own, and Eleri Perryman dished 13 assists for Mission Prep (7-3, 5-3) — a team without a senior on the roster that’s shown resiliency against its larger-sized league opponents.
“We’re a small school in the PAC 8, so not everyone thinks we’re that much of a threat,” junior Noelle Laird said. “On our part, we just have to push through and fight through every match.” The Royals did just that from the start Thursday, breaking a 15-all score in the first set with five straight points to go up 19-15 in part to two kills by the younger Laird sister, sophomore Jennifer.
“Last year was the first time (my sister and I) had ever been on the same volleyball team, and I absolutely love it,” said Noelle, who is a co-captain with fellow junior Bella Casola. “We’re both out there, and I know how competitive she is, which is just as competitive as I am.”
Kills by Noelle Laird and Boncich finished off the first set in favor of the visiting Royals, but the Tigers came right back by winning six of the first eight points in the second.
“Mission played well,” Carter said. “They were playing back on Holland, so we had to adjust our game plan and what we had to do to make her successful.”
With Mission Prep focusing on Boege, who entered the match with more than one-third of San Luis Obispo’s total kills (225 of 605), the Tigers turned elsewhere for offense.
That included Kimball on the opposite side, and the sophomore’s cross-court hits were effective all match long.
“She’s been playing well,” Carter said, “but I know she can play the same way she played tonight for a whole season.”
Merisa Brancart had 25 assists for San Luis Obispo, and junior Morgan Day came off the bench to provide a spark. The outside hitter had five kills in the final two sets, including back-to-back spikes in the decisive fourth frame to put the Tigers ahead 17-14.
Mission Prep came back to tie it at 20- and 21-all, but Kimball found the short-side alley for a kill and Boege’s match-point spike flew off the front block and out of bounds to give the Tigers the come-from-behind win.
San Luis Obispo is now solely in second place in the PAC 8 behind Arroyo Grande (17-3, 7-0), which swept the Tigers in San Luis Obispo on Sept. 25.
“I thought we played a good first half,” said Carter, whose team gets another crack at the Eagles on Oct. 21. “Obviously, we wanted to go 7-0, but we had a little speed bump along the way.
“Going 6-1 in the first half is not anything we should not be proud of because this is a tough league, and every team is out there battling and battling every single Tuesday and Thursday. It’s a fun league.”