Every season since Telmpleton High senior Lauren Ralston started playing volleyball her freshman year, she looks up in the rafters in the school’s gym.
There hangs a banner displaying the last time her school won a CIF-Southern Section championship. The year was 1992.
“Having our names up here,” Ralston, who was six years away from being alive in 1992, said after practice on Wednesday, “it would be so incredible. I just get so excited thinking about it.”
“Now that we have the chance, we’re here, we are definitely going all out for that.”
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Ralston and the rest of her teammates have the chance to end the 23-year championship drought on Saturday when they will take on No. 1 seed Saddleback Valley Christian in the CIF-Southern Section Division 3AA championship game.
The excitement of a possible championship and the best section finish of any volleyball team in the county, generated buzz around the Templeton campus this week after the team returned from a 3-0 road win over Woodcrest Christian in the semifinals.
“It has been crazy,” junior setter Hannah McRoy said. “I don’t think anyone thought we could go this far.”
Neither did McRoy or Ralston, they both admitted.
“People have been coming up to us constantly and congratulating us,” Ralston said. “It’s a lot of pressure definitely, but we have more excitement than nerves at this point.”
Templeton was coming off a Los Padres League championship in 2014 and returned seven seniors, but they started the year with a new coach after Jodi Kelly abruptly resigned. This season, Cameron Schaeffer, 24, who was an assistant under Kelly last season, took over the reins.
“Coach Kelly was more about the team aspects last season and Coach Schaeffer is more technical,” McRoy said. “He has been really great.”
Schaeffer has helped lead the team on a dominating 11-game winning streak and a chance at history. Morro Bay is the only team to take a set from Templeton during the streak, and that was way back on Oct. 20.
“A lot of credit goes to Jodi and the club coaches, all the work they put into it to make these girls better,” Schaeffer said. “I just kind of helped them along and fine-tuned things here and there, but for the most part they knew what they were doing.”
This week, Schaeffer is tasked with coming up with a game plan to stop SVC’s 6-foot-4 middle blocker Francesca Valentine, the biggest player Templeton has faced this year.
“The biggest ever,” Ralston joked.
Schaeffer said he has watched game tape of Valentine from last year’s Southern Section final, a match won by SVC. The Carmen Stratton-led Warriors also won the Southern Section Division 4AA championship in 2013.
“Valentine is contacting the ball really high, much higher than any of us can touch, but if we can just throw hands up there and make her have to think about it, that’s the best we can really do,” Schaeffer said.
On offense, Templeton will rely on the big swings of Ralston and Emily Burns and the precision passing of McRoy. But McRoy is dealing with a thumb and quad injuries that will put her at less than 100 percent when the Eagles take the court Saturday.
Factoring everything in — including injuries, the away game feel at neutral Rio Hondo College, a 3 1/2 -hour drive and a mountain of a middle blocker — Templeton will have a lot to overcome to end the drought. But don’t tell them that. They are just enjoying the ride.
“It’s kind of exciting knowing that we are the underdogs going in,” Ralston said. “So we are going to play up and it’s going to be fun.”