IRVINE, Calif. – The Archbishop Mitty Monarchs entered Saturday’s CIF Division II state championship against Redlands East Valley ranked No. 1 in the nation by MaxPreps, and all they needed to do to finish atop the national rankings was defeat the Wildcats.
However, Mitty coach Bret Almazan-Cezar says that a No. 1 national ranking isn’t his team’s focus.
"The national rankings are nice and it’s fun to follow, but it’s not what we play for,” Almazan-Cezar said. "Our goal is to hang banners. We have to keep our eyes on the prize, and the prize is that trophy right there."
Get out the ladder, clear some space on the wall and make some room in the trophy case, because the Monarchs are bringing home some hardware.
Following Kristina Graven’s kill in the third set that gave the Monarchs a 3-0 win, the Mitty bench rushed the court and celebrated with the Monarch starters, creating a dog-pile in the middle of the Bren Center floor at UC Irvine.
The state championship is the second in a row for the Monarchs, who finished the year 39-0, and the eighth overall in the program’s history. The eight titles ties Mitty with St. Francis of Mountain View for the most state volleyball championships in CIF history. The Monarchs are 8-4 overall in the state finals and have appeared in the last seven Division III championship matches.
"We planned on being here, and the girls overcame a lot of obstacles to get to this point," Almazan-Cezar said. "We had some injuries and we played a really tough schedule, but it was pretty much smooth sailing. When you plan a dream and you can get a group of girls to commit to the same values, good things can happen."
The Monarchs defeated Redlands East Valley 25-16, 25-18, 25-21 behind the powerful right arm of All-American Rachel Williams, who had 19 kills in winning tournament MVP honors.
Williams led Mitty to a 25-16 win in the first game. When she wasn’t crushing a kill at the feet of the Wildcat back-row players, she was dinking the ball just over the front line and into open space. She finished with seven kills in the first game, including four of the last five Mitty points.
The Stanford-bound outside hitter then scored the first 10 points of the second set, including a pair of aces to give Mitty a huge early lead. Redlands East Valley fought back with an 18-11 run on the play of Krista Vansant, who had five kills. But once again Williams came through down the stretch, registering three straight kills to give Mitty the 25-18 win.
Redlands East Valley made a game of it in the third set, leading throughout the first half after three straight blocks by Brianna Potter gave the Wildcats a 12-9 lead. But Graven and Shannon Fleming each had a pair of kills to lead a Mitty comeback and put the Monarchs back on top at 18-16.
The final five points saw Williams get a kill followed by a Brittany Bozzini spike. After a Joan Caloiaro ace, Williams added another kill and Graven got the gamewinning spike. Graven, an All-American in her own right, finished with 12 kills while Caloiaro had 43 assists. Vansant topped Redlands East Valley with 14 kills.
Redlands East Valley, which also finished as the runner-up to Mitty last year, ended the season at 37-4.
Newport Harbor 3, Salinas 0
Sure, Newport Harbor was making its eighth Division I state final appearance while Salinas was making its inaugural trip to the CIF state volleyball championships, but the Sailors hardly had the advantage of experience. After all, Newport Harbor hadn’t reached the state finals since its last title which was way back in 1999.
But a strong final month of the season propelled the Sailors to the most impressive win of the weekend at the Bren Center as they defeated the Cowboys 25-9, 25-11, 25-11.
”It was good to be playing our best volleyball of the year at the end of the season,” said Newport Harbor coach Dan Glenn, whose team finished the season 32-7. “We had a heck of a playoff run and played possibly the best volleyball game I’ve ever witnessed in the semifinals against Dos Pueblos. It’s been a very long, but a very satisfying season.”
The difference in the match turned out to be the hitting ability of the Sailors. Newport Harbor had 20 kills in 24 attempts with just two errors in a 25-9 first set victory for an outrageous .750 hitting percentage. Meanwhile, Salinas managed just six kills with eight errors and a negative 0.83 hitting percentage.
The rest of the match was more of the same. Although the Sailors cooled off a little, hitting .478 in the second game and .290 in the third, Salinas never got on to the positive side of the ledger and finished with a negative hitting percentage for the match.
Katey Thompson had 14 kills with no errors to lead the Sailors while tournament MVP Kirby Burnham had 12 kills with one error. Cinnamon Sary ran the offense with 33 assists. Alex Barbeau led the Cowboys (24-6) with six kills.
Cathedral Catholic 3, Sacred Heart Cathedral 1
Making their fourth trip to the CIF Division III state volleyball championships in the past five years, only one thing was blocking the Sacred Heart Cathedral Fighting Irish from capturing their first ever state title – the Cathedral Catholic Dons.
And block they did. The Dons attempted 31 blocks in the match and had just two errors in capturing a 25-18, 17-25, 25-14, 25-19 win. The championship was the second in a row for Cathedral Catholic which also defeated Sacred Heart Cathedral in last year’s final.
“Their block made a huge difference in the match,” said Irish coach Margi Beima, whose team finished the season 29-12. “It was hard to get through and it took us out of our passing game.”
After losing the first set, the Fighting Irish were able to bounce back and win the second game thanks to a strong start that saw them take a 14-6 lead. Kelly Ostello and Colleen Conefrey combined for six kills during the early run. Although the Dons cut the lead to 20-17, Sacred Heart Cathedral scored the final five points for the win.
The Fighting Irish were unable to stop Cathedral All-American Kelly Reeves in the final two games. The tournament MVP, Reeves finished with 18 kills in the match, the majority of them in the final two games including the game-winner in the fourth set.
“Kelly Reeves is a difference maker, but they are just solid in every rotation,” said Beima. “I thought coming into this match that we could play very well, but I wasn’t sure that it was going to be enough for us to win.”
Taylor Millton had 15 kills for Cathedral while Maritz Sazo led Sacred Heart Cathedral with 13. Kelly Ostello added 12 kills and Nicole Yap had 10. Mackenzie Murtagh had 34 assists for the Fighting Irish.
For the Dons, the second set loss necessitated some fine tuning on the sidelines.
“We had some miscues in our setting, but we regrouped and got it straightened out,” said Cathedral Catholic coach Kelly Drobeck. “Our blocking definitely slowed them down. They had to mix up their shots and we did a good job of staying aggressive.”
Reeves said that making a second straight trip to the Bren Center had a calming affect on the team.
“We weren’t as nervous coming in,” she said. “We have a good group. We have a lot of weapons and we play together. We were able to come into this match and just play our game.”
The Dons end the season with a 31-7 record.
Cathedral won last year's finals over the Irish 29-27, 20-25, 25-18 and 25-14. Reeves was on the All-Tournament team last year as was Yap. Lexi Williamson was the MVP but she graduated. Though a big blow, the Dons obviously adjusted.
They ended the season on a nine-match win streak with their last loss coming on Halloween to Torrey Pines, the third of a three-match losing streak. That apparently brought the team together.
La Jolla Country Day 3, Christian Brothers 0
The Torreys from La Jolla Country Day made their first trip to the CIF State Volleyball Championships a memorable one, defeating the Christian Brothers Falcons in a three straight games. According to coach Peter Ogle, however, the strong performance was not unexpected.
”This is what we have been doing all year,” Ogle said following his team’s 25-19, 25-20, 25-20 win. “This team is tough mentally and they push each other to get better. I’m not surprised that we played well today because I expected us to play well.”
With the win, the Torreys finish the regular season 39-1 overall. The Falcons, who are now 0-4 in state championship finals, finish the season at 30-11. Lauren Birks had 12 kills for the Torreys and was named the tournament’s most valuable player. She said that the championship was a long time coming.
”I’ve thought that we were capable of winning since my freshman year,” Birks said. “I knew that eventually it would all come together.”
Birks' teammate Molly Rogers added seven kills and 14 digs while Erika Chevas led Christian Brothers with seven kills.
La Jolla Country Day's only loss came to Torrey Pines in four games to Torrey Pines.
The Torreys won their final 15 matches after starting the season with 24 consecutive wins. They hit at a remarkable 49.1 rate all season with Birks leading the charge at 59 percent.
Christian Brothers had an eight-match win streak broken. It has won at least 30 matches four straight season, the last two under coach Jeff Deter.
Branson 3, Tri-City Christian 1
In the middle of what was quickly becoming a fourth-set meltdown, Branson coach Michelle Brazil had confidence the Bulls could turn things around.
Leading 24-17 in the fourth set with a 2-1 set advantage in the Division V state finals against Tri-City Christian (Vista), Branson watched the Eagles scored seven straight points to tie the match at 24-24.
“I was eerily calm in that fourth set,” said Brazil, whose team was making its first ever appearance in the California Interscholastic Federation Division V state finals at the Bren Center in Irvine. “I thought we could pull it out. I just kept telling them there was one more point and we could get that next point.”
After rallying with seven straight points behind the play of outside hitter Joy Reinke, who had four kills in the run, Tri-City saw its service game go awry in the late going. A wide serve gave Branson a 25-24 lead, but a net call on the Bulls tied the match at 25-25. Another serve into the net gave Branson (Ross) its eighth match point, but Reinke staved off the celebration with her 20th kill of the match.
Once again a poor serve by Tri-City gave the ball back to Branson and this time the Bulls capitalized with a kill by Kristy Wentzel for the 28-26 win.
The Bulls captured the school’s first volleyball state championship 22-25, 25-15, 25-16, 28-26. The title is the sixth overall for the school, which has won three state titles in boys basketball and two in girls basketball.
Branson led throughout much of the first game, but the Eagles staged a comeback with four straight points to take an 18-17 lead. Hayley Mohr had two kills in the late going and Mira Ramirez finished off the Bulls with a kill on set point for a 25-22 win.
Kathleen Wallace led a Branson surge in the second set, scoring seven straight points to turn a 14-8 advantage into a 21-8 lead. Championship game most valuable player Alex Schoenberger had three kills during the rally and ultimately finished with a team-high 17 for the match. Two kills by Schoenberger, one by Meghan Wentzel and a double hit by Tri-Cities finished the set and allowed Branson to tie the match at 1-1.
Branson went on a similar run in game three to turn a close game into a rout. Wentzel served five straight points, including an ace, but put the Bulls ahead 20-12. Kills by Wallace and Dempsey Wartell and a net call on the Eagles put the mach away at 25-16.
With a 15-13 lead in game four, Branson went on a 9-4 run behind Wallace’s three aces and Schoeberger’s two kills to forge a 24-17 advantage and match point. That set the stage for Tri-Cities’ near comeback and the Bulls’ ultimate win.
Meghan Wentzel had 31 assists for the Bulls while Molly Landers had 26 idgs. Wallace and Kristy Wentzel each had 10 kills. Reinke and Ramirez led the Eagles with 20 kills apiece while Emily Stoehr had 42 assists and Marissa Smith had 25 digs.