Given recent history, the San Luis Obispo High girls volleyball team certainly could’ve been in contention for the PAC 7 title one way or another this season.
But the return of Jessica Chellsen has made the Tigers’ chances even better.
San Luis Obispo continued its early-season roll Tuesday night with a nonleague sweep at Mission Prep, 25-16, 25-8, 25-14, to bring its overall record to 12-2.
Last year, the Tigers tied with Paso Robles for the PAC 7 championship before enjoying the program’s first playoff win in five years.
Also led by current Providence freshman Beth Hoyt, that team reached those plateaus without having Chellsen on the court for much of the second half of the season.
Chellsen, a 6-foot-1 outside hitter, averaged 2.6 kills per set as a junior, but was lost to a season-ending leg injury. Now a senior, she came into Tuesday’s match picking up where she left off last year, again averaging 2.6 kills — second on the team behind fellow senior outside hitter Elizabeth Culpepper (3.3).
“It’s really big to have two really good outsides,” Tigers coach Manny Carter said. “A lot of volleyball is, if you win the outside battle, you’re going to win 60 to 70 percent of your matches.”
Both Chellsen and Culpepper, who also stands 6-1, are captains, along with senior libero Linnea Ramirez.
“Our outsides are one of the best (duos) in the county,” Carter said. “I think both of them are doing their job, and they’re doing great for this far in the season. Hopefully we can keep Jess healthy.”
Culpepper had a team-leading seven kills in Tuesday’s win, including the clincher in the opening set, which featured a 13-1 Tigers run that turned a 3-2 deficit into a 15-4 lead.
The Royals led 5-4 early in Game 2 before San Luis Obispo pulled away immediately afterward. Mission Prep bounced back for the start of the final set, leading 5-1, before again losing momentum most of the rest of the way.
Maggie Eppright finished with 13 assists for the Tigers, and Ramirez had 12 digs. Ramirez also had five of the Tigers’ 18 aces.
“I thought we served really well,” Carter said. “Last year I don’t think we had as many aces at this point of the season.”
San Luis Obispo (1-0 PAC 7) could face its toughest league test from Arroyo Grande, which the Tigers will visit in the South County on Sept. 27 before hosting the second meeting Oct. 20.
Even so, “I’m expecting a lot of surprises,” Carter said of the PAC 7.
Mission Prep coach Michelle Lakey was impressed by the Tigers.
“I don’t anticipate we’ll see a lot of other teams that play as well as them,” Lakey said. “They’re a great team, very solid, very deep and have a lot of experience.”
For the Royals, Bri Harvey had five kills, Grace Ready had nine digs, and Maggie Boneso passed out 10 assists.
“We had a lot of unforced errors and things to work on and improve to be more consistent,” Lakey said.
The Royals (5-2) were ranked No. 7 in this week’s CIF-Southern Section Division 3-AA poll. But even with a similar ranking last year, and a 12-0 record against Los Padres League opponents (who’re also in Division 3-AA), the leagueless Royals were left out of the divisional playoffs in 2010 because they didn’t meet the Southern Section’s requirement to automatically qualify for the postseason as an independent: winning 80 percent of their matches.
The same standard is in place this year.
“It’s in the back of our mind, but that’s not our entire focus,” Lakey said. “We talk about it. We know it’s there. But each (match), we approach as another (match). We focus on the day-to-day.”