By Mitch Stephens
SAN DIEGO, Calif. - Archbishop Mitty (San Jose, Calif.) girls volleyball coach Bret Almazan-Cezar thought it wasn't possible.
Last December, his team was swept in the California Interscholastic Federation Division II finals last year by eventual mythical national champion Mira Costa (Manhattan Beach).
Mitty played its "A" match that day, yet the Mustangs, behind national Player of the Year Alix Klineman and super outside hitter Lauren Bledsoe, pulled out a 25-21, 25-22, 25-23 victory for their third straight state title.
Fast forward to Saturday night's Torrey Pines California Challenge championship match and Almazan-Cezar was left rubbing his eyes and jarring his noggin.
The Mustangs, despite losing Klineman and Bledsoe to graduation, were even more impressive in a dominating 25-20, 25-14, 25-18 victory over Mitty in a showdown of nation's top two teams according to the MaxPreps rankings.
"They were even bigger, faster and stronger than I remember," Almazan-Cezar said.
The top-ranked Mustangs (20-0), coming off a championship at probably the nation's top tournament, the Durango Fall Classic in Las Vegas, never trailed in any game by utilizing all the multi-facets of their game.
USC-bound setter Kendall Bateman orchestrated it all with 44 assists.
Her No. 1 attacker was imposing 6-foot-3 Falyn Fonoimoana, considered the top sophomore in the country. She finished off an MVP tournament with 12 kills, seven blocks and nine digs.
Miami-bound hitter Lane Carico added 10 kills and Stevi Robinson, a high-flying 5-7 senior transfer from Stockdale-Bakersfield, contributed nine kills for the Mustangs who didn't lose a game in five matches.
That's saying something considering the 24-team tournament featured four of the nation's top 11 and nine of the top 100 teams.
Opponents surpassed 19 points only four of the 15 games Mira Costa played and no one scored more than 21.
"They're just in a class by themselves," Almazan-Cezar said. "Besides all that offense they have three Division I liberos on the court also. It's not really fair."
Cal Poly-bound Lauren Law led the backrow defense with 21 digs, Carico 13 and Pepperdine-bound Robinson 11.
Mira Costa constantly put up excellent blocks, especially on Amanda Gil, the 6-6 UCLA-bound middle blocker ranked the ninth top senior recruit in the country by prepvolleyball.com.
With only six kills and three blocks, Gil wasn't much of a factor. The second-ranked Monarchs (21-2) were led by sophomore hitter Rachel Williams (eight kills) and senior libero Lainey Gera (18 digs).
Bateman, Robinson, Gil and Gera were all named to the all-tournament team along with MVP Fonoimoana.
"I think our defense set the tone," Fonoimoana said. "And when we block and pass and serve like we did we're pretty tough to beat. I think we definitely brought our `A' game."
Fonoimoana said it was important for the Mustangs to set the tone against Mitty, a team it could very well face in two weeks at the Santa Barbara Invitational not to mention a repeat matchup in the state finals.
"Mitty always plays us very tough and they figure out our weaknesses," she said. "We have to keep one step ahead of them."
It's helped to have Robinson, who figures, at her height, to play libero at Pepperdine. She offers an amazingly opposite look to Fonoimoana with eight inches separating them in height.
Their results, however, are very similar.
"(Robinson) is on fire," Fonoimoana said. "She's been a great addition to the team and great for our confidence. We all love her."
The first game was highly competitive and tied twice, the second time at 11-11 after three straight service points by Mitty's Taylor Smith.
But Mira Costa took control by scoring five of the next six, keyed by a three-point service run from Law. A big spike from Robinson off the block of Gil gave Mira Costa the first game.
"(Robinson) brings in a fiery punch that's for sure," Mira Costa coach Lisa Zimmerman said. "She does so with a big smile on her face."
The second game was close until Fonoimoana took charge with a pair of emphatic kills keying a three-point run and giving the Mustangs a 12-8 lead. Mitty, behind kills from Katherine Knox and Williams, closed to 14-11, but Mira Costa put it away with five straight points, all with Robinson serving.
Her last one was an ace, making it 19-11.
A block-winner from Fonoimoana set up the game's final point, an ace from Bateman.
Zimmerman said serving was a major part of the Mustangs' victory. The Monarchs had trouble getting into offense and were out of synch for much of the match.
"You have to be able to pass and serve and we didn't do either very well," Almazan-Cezar said. "You certainly can't stay with Mira Costa not doing those things."
When Mira Costa raced to a 6-2 lead in the third, capped with a dual block-winner against Gil by Pauline Acres and Robinson, Mitty was in deep trouble. The Monarchs eventually tied it at 12-12, but Carico had a six-serve run putting this one away.
"The girls have shown all year that they step up against the tougher competition," Mira Costa coach Lisa Zimmerman. "Mitty has a way of exposing your weakness, and we know they'll be improved the next time we see them."
With big back-to-back tournament titles, Mira Costa is now clearly the top team in the country. Zimmerman doesn't think her team will let down.
"They know what it's like to have that big target on their backs," she said. "I think they've taken ownership of this team. They've shown they want to display their own style. They thrive on team success and have a real good time together. They have fun."
Host Torrey Pines had a superb tournament and tied for third with La Costa Canyon.
Led by all-tournament selections Anne Carroll-Ingersoll and Kerra "Boo" Schroeder, Torrey Pines won its pool, then knocked off San Diego Section rival Vista Murrieta in the quarterfinals 25-15, 19-25, 30-32, 25-22, 15-10.
The Falcons had Mitty on the ropes but lost in the semifinals 21-25, 25-19, 25-19, 12-25, 15-8.
"I was most impressed with our team chemistry and that we never gave up," Torrey Pines coach Jim Harrah said. "When you add that kind of attitude and have some talented players like we have you have something special. I think we have that. This is something we can build on."
2007 Torrey Pines California Challenge
Pool A: Mira Costa d. Bakersfield Christian 25-12, 25-14, 25-16; Francis Parker d. Bakersfield Christian 25-15, 25-17, 25-17; Mira Costa d. Francis Parker 25-20, 25-12, 25-21.
Pool B: Mitty d. Central Catholic 25-11, 13-25, 25-16, 25-19; Central Catholic d. Esperanza 25-21, 25-22, 17-25, 21-25, 15-12; Mitty d. Experanza 25-23, 25-14, 25-18.
Pool C: Vista Murrieta d. Scripps Ranch 26-24, 25-14, 22-25, 25-16; Notre Dame Academy d. Scripps Ranch 25-16, 25-15, 25-22; Vista Murrieta d. Notre Dame Academy 25-17, 25-23, 25-16.
Pool D: La Costa Canyon d. Edison 25-22, 22-25, 23-25, 25-16, 21-19; Edison d. Bakersfield 25-19, 20-25, 25-19, 24-26, 15-9; La Costa Canyon d. Bakersfield 25-16, 25-20, 25-17.
Pool E: Long Beach Wilson d. Clovis West 25-15, 25-16, 20-25, 25-22; Santa Fe Christian d. Clovis West 21-25, 21-25, 25-18, 25-13, 15-10; Santa Fe Christian d. Long Beach Wilson 25-27, 25-22, 25-19, 19-25, 15-12.
Pool F: Torrey Pines d. Tesoro 23-25, 25-15, 25-16, 25-17; Tesoro d. Liberty 25-20, 17-25, 25-22, 14-25, 15-11; Torrey Pines d. Liberty 25-17, 25-19, 25-7.
Pool G: Carlsbad d. Stockdale 25-14, 25-18, 25-16; Laguna Beach d. Stockdale 25-20, 25-16, 25-22; Laguna Beach d. Carlsbad 19-25, 25-20, 28-30, 25-19, 17-15.
Pool E: San Clemente d. Bishops 25-22, 25-19, 26-24; Marymount d. San Clemente 26-24, 25-17, 25-19; Marymount d. Bishops 25-17, 25-10, 25-16.
CHAMPIONSHIP (GOLD) DIVISION
Mira Costa d. Marymount 25-15, 25-10, 25-21
La Costa Canyon d. Santa Fe Christian 25-17, 25-17, 25-20
Torrey Pines d. Vista Murrieta 25-15, 19-25, 30-32, 25-22, 15-10
Mitty d. Long Beach Wilson 25-21, 25-12, 25-21
Mira Costa d. La Costa Canyon 25-19, 25-16, 25-19
Mitty d. Torrey Pines 21-25, 25-19, 25-19, 12-25, 15-8
Mira Costa d. Mitty 25-20, 25-14, 25-18
Santa Fe Christian d. Marymount 25-19, 12-25, 20-25, 30-28, 15-13
Laguna Beach d. Vista Murrieta 21-25, 25-22, 22-25, 19-25, 15-10
*Falyn Fonoimoana (Mira Costa), Kendall Bateman (Mira Costa), Stevi Robinson (Mira Costa), Amanda Gil (Mitty), Lainey Gera (Mitty), Anne Carroll Ingersoll (Torrey Pines), Kerra "Boo" Schroeder (Torrey Pines), Natalie Hagglund (La Costa Canyon), Katie Fuller (La Costa Canyon), Faith Steinwedell (Santa Fe Christian), Dana Hutchinson (Laguna Beach), Sam Selsky (Marymount), Serina Russo (Vista Murrieta).
San Clemente d. Francis Parker 17-25, 25-16, 25-17, 25-14
Long Beach Wilson d. Edison 25-20, 25-22, 10-25, 25-17
Notre Dame Academy d. Tesoro 25-23, 25-19, 25-23
Carlsbad d. Central Cathedral 27-25, 25-19, 25-23
San Clemente d. Long Beach Wilson 19-25, 25-22, 23-25, 25-13, 17-15
Notre Dame Academy d. Carlsbad 21-25, 23-25, 28-26, 25-21, 15-12
San Clemente d. Notre Dame Academy 25-23, 26-24, 15-8
Edison d. Francis Parker 25-18, 25-18
Cathedral d. Tesoro 25-16, 25-12
Bishops d. Bakersfield Christian 25-18, 25-20, 25-23
Bakersfield d. Clovis West 26-24, 25-18, 25-16
Liberty d. Scripps Ranch 25-23, 25-21, 25-18
Esperanza d. Stockdale 25-15, 25-15, 28-26
Bakersfield d. Bishops 25-15, 16-25, 25-22, 25-22
Liberty d. Esperanza 16-25, 25-18, 11-25, 25-15, 15-9
Bakersfield d. Liberty 25-22, 25-23, 25-23
Clovis West d. Bakersfield Christian 25-19, 25-19, 25-17
Stockdale d. Scripps Ranch 25-23, 25-20, 25-11