An improving La Costa Canyon girls volleyball team overcame a shaky first set Saturday, Nov. 2, to roll past visiting La Jolla, 3-1 (22-25, 25-12, 25-20, 25-14) in the Quarterfinal round of the CIF Open Division playoffs. The victory was the fifth in a row for LCC, ninth in its last 10, moves them to 28-13 for the season and, most importantly, into next Wednesday’s semi-final at No. 2 Cathedral Catholic. The team prevailing in that encounter will square off Saturday night, Nov. 9, against whoever emerges from the other semi-final tilt between Bishop’s and top-seeded Torrey Pines. La Jolla’s season comes to a close at 25-9.
The match was a microcosm of the Mavericks’ fall 2019 campaign which has been far from smooth but included enough high points to land the third seed in the Open bracket. Second-year Head Coach Rachel Morris has been pleased with the stability she’s seen out of her still-developing squad over the final weeks of the regular season and to see it extend into Saturday’s CIF opener.
“It feels like we’ve finally found our footing with the starting six,” said Morris. “Our three young kids—Avry Tatum, Eva Rohrbach and Mackenzie Piester—have really kind of solidified themselves into the lineup and when our serve receive is good, it’s kind of fun because we can run them everywhere. With (Sophia) Tulino out of the back row, it makes our offense that much more difficult to deal with.
“As far as serve receive, Riley Dean has done a really good job at libero. She and Layla Haberfield have kind of taken control of that back row and are both consistently passing really, really well.”
Saturday’s contest, incredibly the fourth of the year between the two schools (two of the first three went to LCC), began tentatively with the two adversaries trading points to 11-11. At that juncture, La Jolla posted five straight to go up 16-11. LCC rallied back to tie, and it was still deadlocked at 22, but the visiting Vikings ran it out by recording the final three points. Earlier in the year, it might have been cause for self-doubt but with this evolved version of the Mavericks, it was just another bump in the road.
Steadying things and taking control, La Costa Canyon raced out to a 10-5 advantage in the second game, stretched it to 22-8 and eventually knotted the set count at one. Solid passing and increased production from Tulino helped turned things around.
“At the beginning of the match, we weren’t keeping the ball in play,” said Tulino, who had a match high 16 kills and four aces, while sharing the pass receiving duties with Dean and Haberfield. “They’re a good defensive team and I think we got a little timid there.
“Honestly, I didn’t feel I played super well but kind of fought my way back after the first set. Our passing helped us a lot in this match, as it has recently. We focus on it a lot in practice and we’ve definitely found more of a rhythm passing next to each other—we’re more comfortable, communicate better and all that has helped.”
Set three was hectic early but after trailing, 6-3, LCC went on an 11-3 tear to take control as its superior size (Tatum, Rohrbach and Piester all stand 6-foot-1 or better) started making an impact at the net. After getting the lead as high as seven, Morris & Co. coasted to a five-point win. The decisive fourth set was similar with the Mavericks pulling away mid-game and finishing with a flourish.
Tulino’s sophomore sister, Emily, and senior Mia Schafer combined to hand out 36 assists and senior Cami Cox turned in a strong all-around performance with seven kills and six total blocks, several of each coming at key moments. Tatum chipped in with eight kills while hitting at a .412 clip and Dean and Sophia Tulino each collected 13 digs.
A senior, the elder Tulino is looking forward to Wednesday’s showdown at Cathedral. Knowing that LCC was good enough to hand No. 1-ranked Torrey Pines its only loss to a San Diego opponent this year, a 3-0 stunner back in September, going all the way is not out of the question.
“I really want us to upset them and get to the finals,” said Tulino, who lost in the finals as a freshman before suffering first round defeats the past two years. “It’s firing me up. This is my last run in the playoffs, last run in high school volleyball.
“I want it to be something to remember so I can look back on it and be happy.”