Atascadero girls volleyball team rallies but falls in five sets

Atascadero High sophomore setter Brooke Harbottle said Alta Loma acted as if it had the match won when the visitors walked into the Greyhounds’ gym Tuesday evening. 

And after the first two sets of the first-round CIF-Southern Section Division 2AA playoff match, it seemed it might be a cakewalk for the team from Rancho Cucamonga. 

But then Atascadero started to get some rhythm and some confidence, winning the next two games, including a third set in which the Greyhounds trailed 19-14 and also faced match point. 

The Greyhounds mounted a resilient comeback that fell just short and they lost a tense five-setter 25-12, 25-19, 25-27, 19-25, 15-7. 

“Once we get our energy and our rhythm as a team, we can do anything,” Harbottle said. “They came in the gym feeling like they had the match won. They were all so tall and athletic. But we showed them we were their equals.” 

After a first set in which the Greyhounds (20-12) looked a little tentative, and had few aggressive slams from the set, senior outside hitter Kendall Featherstone set the tone early in the second set. 

She boomed a kill that seemed to give Atascadero some life against a blocking line from Alta Loma (19-13) that included 6-foot-2 Brianna Gardner, who had 15 kills in the match, and 6-1 Ashley Mickey. 

Featherstone led Atascadero with 16 kills and 20 digs in her final high school match. Harbottle logged 33 assists.

Featherstone led the Greyhounds on a furious comeback in the third set, capping the final point with a kill after the Greyhounds were on the verge of being swept with Alta Loma up 24-23.

The Greyhounds pulled to a 23-all tie with a furious rally that resembled a tennis match, and the ball went back and forth over the net several times. 

Then in the fourth set, Atascadero pulled ahead after being tied at 15 to grab a 23-18 lead on the serve of Lindsay Shorter. 

Kaylie Griffin tallied 10 kills, and Maren Cracknell had nine kills on the night. Sabrina Degnan recorded 24 digs.

The Greyhounds, the second- place team from the PAC 7 League, were able to contain Alta Loma’s big leaper and hitter, Aeryn Owens, in the third and fourth sets much better than in the first two. 

Owens finished with 21 kills and was dominant as a hitter and server in the fifth set. 

In the fifth, Atascadero couldn’t get much going early on its attacks, and Alta Loma built a 10-1 lead that proved insurmountable. 

“I’m so proud of the resiliency of this team,” Atascadero coach Trent Lunceford said. “They fended off two sets, they fought off a match point, and they made clutch plays. I’m very proud.”

Cracknell said she couldn’t believe it was the last game for Featherstone and another senior captain, Chandler Haskell, and they’ll be missed next season.

“They got us so pumped up,” Cracknell said. “They’re such great leaders. We fought hard and played our hearts out.”