For four years running, Arroyo Grande High has been the gold standard in girls volleyball along the Central Coast.
But the Eagles have some work to do if they want to make it five years, coach Ernie Santa Cruz said Tuesday night, following a 25-23, 27-25, 25-16 win at Mission Prep.
“We didn’t play with any focus,” Santa Cruz said. “Our approach to the game wasn’t very good, and we’re going to work on that.
“For the team and for myself, we all work way too hard to play like this,” he said. “Hopefully we can play at a higher level.”
Arroyo Grande (2-0) — which opened the year ranked No. 9 in the CIF-Southern Section Division 1-A poll — began Tuesday’s first set in an 8-3 deficit, prompting a timeout before going on a 6-0 run and holding on down the stretch.
After taking an 18-10 advantage in the second game, the Eagles gave up a 7-1 surge, and found themselves tied at 21, 22, 24 and 25 before closing it out.Mission Prep (1-1) is in its first year in the Southern Section, in Division 3-AA, after transitioning from the Central Section.
“We try to prove (ourselves) each year against them, and we’ve never gotten that close to beating them,” Royals coach Michelle Lakey said. “To know we played so well against a team like that, and that it could’ve potentially been a totally opposite outcome, that’s encouraging.
“It’s great, because A.G. is well known in this area.”
A year ago, the Eagles enjoyed a 23-3-1 campaign, making it to the second round of the Division 1-A playoffs after remaining unbeaten in league play since 2005.
That team graduated its leader in kills and blocks, Rachel Ventura, the PAC 7 MVP and San Luis Obispo County Player of the Year.
On the other hand, Paso Robles (which finished second in the league at 10-2), Atascadero and San Luis Obispo (tied for third at 7-5) all returned their kills leaders in Tess Rountree, Kiah Featherstone and Elizabeth Culpepper, respectively. The 6-foot Rountree, last year’s league leader in kills at 3.4 per game, later went on to break a school record in the high jump in track and field at 5 feet, 6 inches.
Both Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo won a set apiece against the Eagles a year ago, bringing to a close what had been a 104-set winning streak.
“The PAC 7’s not an easy conference,” Santa Cruz said. “Everybody always fires up to play us. We’re not in a position to just try to walk through things.
“People would love to knock us off, and that’s something that we have to be ready for.”
Arroyo Grande has shown the ability to reload before.
Last year’s success, for instance, came after losing Seton Hall-bound setter Olivia Trudeau, who last fall led the Big East Conference in assists per game as a freshman.
“I thought we had good control of our game (last year),” Santa Cruz said. “We came in the same way every time. That’s something we’re going to have to regain.”
This year’s squad brought back a pair of all-county first-team seniors in libero Madi Ventura (who paced the PAC 7 with 51 aces as a junior) and setter Maggi Jo Keffury. Ventura highlighted Tuesday’s match with 20 digs.
Mission Prep is coming off a banner year in its own right. The Royals advanced further than the program ever had in 2009, going 27-7 and making it to the Southern California Regional Division V championship match.
Five starters returned, including middle blocker Andrea Fernandez and setter Deirdre Laird. Fernandez had 14 digs Tuesday. Laird had 12 assists and nine digs, while Sadie Casacca had 20 digs and seven kills.