Any win in what’s usually the best Central Coast girls volleyball rivalry is special for the players involved. The swift manner in which San Luis Obispo High beat Arroyo Grande made the latest one even more so.
The Tigers swept the visiting Eagles 25-19, 25-18, 25-20 to convincingly take sole possession of first place in the PAC 7 standings Thursday night.
“It’s the biggest win,” San Luis Obispo senior Elizabeth Culpepper said. “To win in three (sets), especially at home, in my senior year — all of our senior years — it just feels really great. It still brings tears to my eyes when I think about last year when we beat them in five, and this is just one of those high school memories that I’m never going to forget.”
The stands were nearly entirely full, with an overflow onto the corners of the floor.
“I think tonight was a little different from even when I was in high school,” said San Luis Obispo coach Manny Carter, a former starter for the Tigers’ boys team in the early 2000s. “I haven’t seen the gym this packed with students. Usually it’s parents, but tonight our student body was amazing.”
Culpepper, a 6-foot-1 outside hitter who came into the day leading the league in hitting at 32 percent, recently returned to the court after a three-match absence because of a sprained ankle. She was out for the Tigers’ only PAC 7 loss of the season so far, a four-set defeat at Atascadero on Oct. 11.
“It was pretty difficult,” Culpepper said of missing time. “But I realized it was for my own personal benefit. Although it was a tough loss (to the Greyhounds), this would’ve been even worse if I had gotten re-injured and then wouldn’t be able to play in this one.”
Culpepper had a match-leading 12 kills Thursday.
“She’s probably one of the best volleyball players in the county,” Carter said, “by far.”
“She’s a great hitter, and she’s a great weapon to have. I’ll tell you I’m glad she’s on my side of the net.”
Jessica Chellsen had seven kills for the Tigers (23-6, 8-1).
Maggie Eppright had 33 assists, four aces and 13 digs in the win, and teammate Linnea Ramirez had 15 digs.
“Hopefully we can really thrive on tonight,” Carter said. “I think we’re at a good spot right now, but we can’t settle. We’ve just got to make sure we get better every single day.”
The Tigers had 11 blocks as a team.
“They played well,” Arroyo Grande coach Ernie Santa Cruz said. “They deserve it. They played hard the whole night, had a lot of focus, and they battled through the tough points.
“We’ll just have to regroup and finish the best we can.”
Alyssa Koenig and Kylie Anderson had six kills each to lead the Eagles (19-5, 8-2).
Arroyo Grande held a 7-2 first-set lead, was up 10-8 in the second game, and rallied in the third to tie it 15-15 before San Luis Obispo was able to pull away.
“They played a really great (match), too,” Culpepper said.
A year ago, San Luis Obispo broke Arroyo Grande’s four-year league-championship streak by tying Paso Robles for the title. The Tigers then got their first CIF-Southern Section divisional playoff win in five years.
As for the implications of Thursday’s win, “I’m not very good at all the placing (and rankings),” Culpepper said, smiling.
“I just like to play volleyball, but I definitely think that it’s a little bit of a weight off our shoulders. But we won’t be overlooking anybody.”