By Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
Despite the difficult environment, the La Habra girls volleyball team didn’t give a usually loud Sunny Hills crowd much to cheer about in a 3-0 sweep of the Lady Lancers at Sunny Hills High, which boosted La Habra into the playoffs, Tuesday night.
The Lady Highlanders pinned Sunny Hills (13-12, 4-6) down in the first set and kept a foot on the Lady Lancers throughout in a 25-16, 25-18, 25-19 victory that vaulted La Habra to a third place Freeway League finish.
Sunny Hills never had a lead larger than one point and the Lady Highlanders erased it each time.
“It was really important for us to get a fast start,” said Adrianne Spear, La Habra head coach. “We do a harassing-the-passer drill and harassing-the-server drill to mentally prepare them for a tough gym atmosphere like this. I know when we travel for playoffs, it will continue to be tough.”
Sophomore Ashly Hernandez was the field general, spreading the ball to different locations for La Habra’s offense. She finished with 25 assists, three aces and a pair of kills.
Fellow sophomore Lexi Kolschefski and senior Clarissa Stevenson continued to play an important role in the middle, as several tips at the net allowed La Habra’s back line to pick up Sunny Hills’ attacks more easily.
Kolschefski recorded six kills, two blocks and two aces, but outside hitter Ryana Murch led the team with eight kills and Stevenson added seven more.
“My intention was to have Ashly as our lead setter, but her knee was bothering her and it was holding us back,” Spear said. “We thought if we could run through the first round of league with two setters, we could see how her knee was doing and she did her exercises and ice sessions and it’s paid off, I think with her running the whole system, it’s really working for us.”
The first set was all about setting the tone and La Habra (7-16, 5-5) used a pair of 5-0 runs midway through the set to take a commanding 19-6 lead.
Stevenson and Hernandez held serve for La Habra on both runs and the Lady Highlanders weathered a small comeback try by Sunny Hills, breezing to a 1-0 advantage.
The Lady Lancers bounced back to begin the second and the teams traded points.
After gaining a four-point advantage, the Lady Lancers got two assists and an ace from setter Jasmine Tong to tie it back up.
Scrappy play on both sides kept the score close until La Habra regained serve with the scored tied 17-17.
Asia Williams held serve as the Lady Highlanders broke away with a 7-0 run as Stevenson’s presence at the net caused problems for the Lady Lancers’ hitters.
La Habra ended the set on a 8-1 run, setting up the potential for a sweep.
It wouldn’t take as long for the Lady Highlanders to break away in the final set.
With Nicole Mann serving, Stevenson recorded two kills, Hernandez added a tip kill and the Lady Lancers committed two net violations in a La Habra 8-0 run that put the Lady Highlanders ahead 13-6.
La Habra held off Sunny Hills once more and finished it with a kill by Stevenson to take the match, the playoff berth and a third place finish in the Freeway League.
“We haven’t been a team that looks like we play under pressure very well,” Spear said. “Sometimes under pressure we’ll fight, but we haven’t had the success of seeing that pressure and then winning. Doing this in three games is something that they needed and I couldn’t have asked for more. They fought for every point they earned.”
Jerrili Malabanan led the Lady Lancers with nine kills and was most effective at the beginning of each set.
Hannah Warner added eight kills and three blocks, while Tong assisted 23 points.
But it wasn’t enough to bring down a La Habra team that may have reached it’s next level in terms of on-court play.
“I think it’s finally clicked and I think this is what we need to propel us into playoffs,” Spear said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to handle what’s coming next.”
The Lady Highlanders finished the regular season with a 7-16 overall record, but 5-5 in the Freeway League.
Despite only two nonleague victories, Spear remained confident that her team could make a push.
“It was never a thought that they couldn’t do it, for me it was when were they going to do it,” Spear said. “I knew it was there, I had known it was there since summer, it was a matter of getting it to happen and wondering when it was going to happen.”