Not even sweeps come easily in the CIF-Southern Section Division 1A playoffs.
Withstanding a couple of contentious opening sets, though, the San Luis Obispo High girls volleyball team held on to defeat visiting Rancho Cucamonga on Tuesday night for a 25-21, 25-23, 25-18 first-round victory.
It’s the second year in a row the Tigers (28-6), who finished the regular season ranked No. 9 in the division, have made it to the second round.
Last year, they shared the PAC 7 championship with Paso Robles and then earned their first postseason win in five years. This season, they claimed the league title outright.
“It feels amazing,” senior outside hitter Jessica Chellsen said. “Last year we started strong, winning in the first round, which we haven’t done in a while, and this year we came back and did it again. And this year we did it in three, which is amazing.”
It was actually the second time this year that San Luis Obispo faced the Cougars. In early October at the Royal Classic tournament in Simi Valley, the Tigers beat them 25-12, 25-11. Since then, though, Rancho Cucamonga had made considerable strides, Tigers coach Manny Carter said.
For instance, the Cougars edged Ayala 2-1 in tournament play, three weeks after Ayala had topped the Tigers 2-0.
“They’re a really tough team,” Chellsen said. “They beat teams that we lost to in tournaments before, so we had to be really prepared to play a tough match.”
A key to the win was the Tigers’ serving.
“We had hardly any missed serves, and our passing was really good,” Chellsen said. “We played well together.”
Maggie Eppright had an ace that provided a 21-18 lead in the second set, prompting a Rancho Cucamonga timeout. Soon afterward, another ace, that time by Chellsen, her second of the set, pushed the lead to 23-21.
Carter said serving was a point of emphasis coming in.
“I told them I was going to guarantee a win if you serve well,” he said. “We served well, and we’ve been serving well all year. And it worked out tonight as far getting them out of system and moving them around.”
Then with a 24-23 lead, Ariel Becker came up with a block to push the Cougars to the brink of elimination.
In the clincher, Amelia Brown had another ace for San Luis Obispo, establishing a 10-5 lead. Rancho Cucamonga got within 10-7 coming out of a timeout but didn’t get any closer the rest of the way.
“That was our game plan, to serve tough,” senior libero Linnea Ramirez said. “That was what we’ve been doing all season.”
Becker and Brown both finished with 10 kills, and Chellsen had nine. Becker added three blocks.
Eppright set for 31 assists, and Ramirez led the way with 19 digs.
In the second round, the Tigers will face eighth-ranked Beckman of Irvine (21-7), the Pacific Coast League runner-up, who beat West Ranch of Valencia (12-18). That match will be at 7 p.m. Thursday. The match could be moved up to 6 p.m. if mutually agreed upon by the schools beforehand, as Tuesday’s was.
“It’s definitely a very good win,” Ramirez said. “It’s a huge accomplishment to win (the PAC 7 title) two years in a row, and this year to win it outright by ourselves and get a win in the first round was also very exciting, and we hope to get further than last year.”
A win in the next round would set up a quarterfinal match likely against top-seeded Marymount of Los Angeles, the 31st-ranked team in the nation by both MaxPreps.com and ESPN RISE.
“To have those teams in our division is really tough,” Carter said, “but at the same time, it’s nice to play those teams.”