VALENCIA — Cliched as it can sound, volleyball often is a game of runs.
That proved true, at least for the first three games, on Tuesday evening when Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy faced off with host Valencia Valencia in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division I-A playoffs.
But, while the Tologs and Vikings traded momentum and games, rarely did they trade points over the first three games, which were uncharacteristic of a close match in their lopsided scores. When the fourth and deciding fifth games played out, a back-and-forth nature somewhat came to fruition, but Sacred Heart's inexperience so too came to the forefront, as the upstart Tologs lost their upset bid to the Vikings, 10-25, 25-12, 5-25, 25-18, 15-12.
"A lot of it is the inexperience of my girls," said first-year Tologs Coach Ernest Banaag, whose team features only one senior in Colleen Degnan, who had 27 digs in her final match. "Nerves. As a coach, you just have to think it's inexperience."
Owning a 2-1 lead in games and seemingly riding the momentum of a 25-5 win in the third game, the Tologs (15-16) couldn't close it out, as the Vikings gained early advantages in both the fourth and fifth games. As had been a pattern in the first three games, whoever got an early lead won. But in a slight difference, the Tologs were able to keep it close.
"In the fifth game, I think if we would have got a lead, that would've carried us," said Banaag, whose team was led by junior Katie Conley's 11 kills and four blocks.
Valencia (25-10), which won the Foothill League title, jumped out to an 8-4 lead in the fifth game, but the Tologs would catch them at 11 — the latest a game was tied all night long. However, as they've now done 10 consecutive times in matches that have gone to a deciding game — whether a best-of-three or best-of-five — the Vikings came out on top in the end, as they scored four of the match's last five points. Sacred Heart finished the year 1-4 in matches that went to a deciding game.
"The fifth game, it's a nice bit of knowledge to know we've been there a lot and always came out on top," said Vikings Coach Ray Sanchez, whose team's streak included a best-of-three, three-game win over the Tologs at the Redondo Union Tournament. "Credit to Flintridge, though, they battled. They were right there [in the fifth game]. They're a very young team and they're talented and we just barely survived."
The pivotal fourth game also played out much like the fifth, with the Vikings asserting themselves early, taking a 9-5 lead and then again at 13-7, but a 5-0 run behind the serve of sophomore Emily Develle brought the score to within 16-15. After a Sierra Sanchez kill for Valencia ended the run, the Vikings never allowed consecutive points to the Tologs again in the match. Sanchez finished with 11 kills, while Delaney Knudsen, like Sanchez one of seven seniors on the Vikings, turned in a match-high 15 kills.
"I think that made a big difference," said Sanchez of his team's experience edge.
It hardly showed in the opening game, though, as the Tologs, who scored the first point in every game, got a kill from Megan Bacall and an ace from Sophia Coffey to start the match en route to a 6-1 lead. The Tologs tallied six blocks in the game and got kills from six players, led by four each from Bacall and Conley.
But as impressive as the Tologs looked and as unimpressive as the Vikings looked in the first game, it was just the opposite in the second.
"It was more like a game of errors," said Banaag, who also got 10 kills from freshman Meghan Lacey, eight kills and 22 assists from Coffey and 18 digs from junior Maddie Peterson. "Whoever could cut down on the errors would win."
That wasn't the Tologs in the second game, as they made 10 and the Vikings easily made a 17-5 lead stand for a 25-12 win. But once again the momentum didn't carry over, though the lopsided scoring did.
"It was ridiculous," said Sanchez of the back-and-forth scoring disparity. "I've never seen freshman games that were like that."
The Tologs scored 11 straight points, marked by two blocks and two kills from Conley, to take a 12-1 third-game lead.
Develle added 15 digs, junior Katherine Villegas had 13 assists and junior Allison Clapp had six blocks for a Tologs team that has six sophomores and three freshmen on its 16-player roster.
"I told the girls the future is bright," said Banaag, whose team took third in the Mission League and returned to the playoffs after a one-year hiatus. "This game is done, but the future we still have."