There were earlier signs than this that the Atascadero High girls volleyball team didn’t have its best in Tuesday’s CIF-Southern Section Division 2AA first-round home match against Simi Valley, but the prime example came in a seven-point stretch midway through a must-win fourth set.
The visiting Pioneers’ Tyler Galipo served every one of those points, and whether it was a straight ace, a Greyhound kill attempt into the net or an Atascadero free ball, the PAC 8’s second-seeded team could not put forth the combination needed at a critical juncture in the match.
The seven-point run put the finishing touches on Simi Valley’s 25-17, 19-25, 25-22, 25-11 win at Ewing Gym.
“The whole night could have been better,” Atascadero coach Rachel Coons said. “I feel like our passing; we were kind of on our heels the whole time. They were serving really tough, and we just got nervous. We didn’t have the confidence to step in and make the pass.
“That was one part of it. The other part was I wish our hitting could be a little better, I wish our setting could be a little better. Just all around, we didn’t play the way I know we could.”
That was the consensus from the Greyhounds as well — the only team that took undefeated league champion Arroyo Grande to four sets in both their matches and had split a pair of three-set matches with Simi Valley at a tournament in September.
“I think it really comes down to us having confidence,” senior middle blocker Maren Cracknell said. “We were scared from the beginning, and they weren’t. When we picked it up, we did great and won the second game. Then we just lost it again.”
Cracknell said Atascadero (18-14) had energy in warm-ups, but things started to unravel when the Pioneers (19-8) took leads of 6-3 and 9-5 in the first set.
“It starts to show right when the game starts,” she said. “The first couple points determine our energy, and when they aren’t going our way or we make mistakes, it really gets down on us.”
Katherine Sedley had eight kills, and Kaylie Griffin added seven for the Greyhounds. Sabrina Degnan led with 15 digs, and fellow co-captain Brooke Harbottle had 24 assists and four aces. Atascadero graduates seven seniors, with Harbottle and Griffin the top returning contributors for next year.
“We didn’t play our best, but at least we put up a good fight,” Harbottle said. “I wanted to play my best so (the seniors) could play more volleyball and make it to the next round of CIF, but it didn’t happen.”
Simi Valley, which finished second in the newly formed Coastal Canyon League, never trailed in the first set, as Carie Valentine established herself as an outside threat with four kills and three aces, finishing the match with 16 and five, respectively.
“We came out and you could see the stress and the pressure (the Greyhounds) were feeling,” Coons said. “Our team plays so well when they’re having fun and enjoying it, and I didn’t see that team tonight.”
Things picked up in the second set, as Harbottle and Lindsay Shorter had lengthy serving streaks that put Atascadero ahead 21-16 and had the Greyhounds celebrating each point with the same vigor they showed when they swept San Luis Obispo on the road in October.
That win forced a tie for second in the PAC 8, and a preseason draw gave Atascadero a home match in the first round while the Tigers had to travel.
But the Pioneers won four of the final five points to take the third set, and Galipo’s stretch of jump serves all but ended things at 19-8 in the fourth.
“It is so rough, and that’s when you get even more down on yourself,” Cracknell said of the fourth. “It’s just so hard to get that confidence when there’s someone serving to you like that and they know you’re going to miss a pass.”
A kill from Sedley stopped the bleeding, but Simi Valley’s Sydney Burt reeled off three straight kills of her own and Atascadero couldn’t dig up a Deni Roberts spike on match point.
“We knew what to expect,” Coons said, “we just didn’t execute.
“There were a lot of proud moments from this season; so many things happened that I was proud of that this isn’t totally killing my assessment of our season at all. … We totally improved as a team throughout the year. ”