Lady Heralds return to Division 2A finals after tough road test
by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
Facing its first road match in this year’s playoffs, the Whittier Christian volleyball team overcame a raucous gym and a first-set loss to earn a spot in the CIF-SS Division 2A finals for a third consecutive season after defeating Troy 3-1, Tuesday night at Troy High.
Whittier Christian will face off against Mayfield High in the CIF-SS Division 2A Championship match at Santiago Canyon College, Saturday at 10 a.m.
After suffering their first set loss in the playoffs, the Lady Heralds remained calm and kept pressing to a 19-25, 25-18, 25-18, 25-19 victory.
Senior outside hitter Kylee Wolfe was dominant in the first three sets and led all hitters with 27 kills while Jennifer Washle finished with 46 assists.
“I talked with them about consistency tonight,” said Shawn Hunter, Whittier Christian head coach. “Troy played phenomenally all night long, especially in Game 1. I just put it toward consistency to keep plugging away and resetting ourselves. It was a great win, it was a lot of fun.”
Once again, Whittier Christian (31-6) tried multiple angles to score points, but ultimately Wolfe and Deanna Blaine were relied upon to try and finish off opportunities.
Blaine added 13 kills for the Lady Heralds.
Whittier Christian also kept some of Troy’s biggest hitters in check. Middle blocker Lauren Jackson was held to four kills and outside hitter Alison Beattie finished with seven kills, four of which came in the first set.
Senior outside hitter Kayla Chapman led the Lady Warriors with 15 kills, while setter Julie Kim finished with 35 assists.
While Whittier Christian’s offense worked well in the first set, the Lady Heralds were also plagued by hitting errors early.
However, the set remained close until Troy (32-5) pulled away late with a 5-0 run that included three errors by Whittier Christian.
“In the first set, we were pretty tense because of the crowd and because it’s CIF,” Washle said. “Once we relaxed and played our game, it went a lot smoother.”
The Lady Heralds regrouped in the second set and jumped to a 9-3 lead behind both outside hitters.
The momentum further swung in Whittier Christian’s favor when Washle finished a long volley by tipping the ball over the net to make the score 18-12.
“Our coach is really good at conditioning us,” Washle said. “I think that really paid off, in the long rallies, the hitters were still able to jump high and I was able to run and get the ball. We were able to keep our energy up, while it looked like they got a little gassed.”
Wolfe tied the match with her seventh kill of the set.
The momentum carried over into a crucial third set, where the Lady Heralds jumped to a 6-2 lead, which included four more kills from Wolfe.
Later in the set, Nicole Santos recorded two consecutive service aces to give Whittier Christian its biggest lead at 19-8.
“We did the same thing in last year’s semifinals, so I think being reminded of that gave us energy after the first set,” Wolfe said. “This was really good for the whole team, it gives us confidence going into the finals. This is the best we’ve played in a really long time.”
But behind Chapman, the Lady Warriors wouldn’t go down quietly. The senior outside hitter led a charge with two kills and two aces before Blaine finished the set with a big kill.
The Lady Warriors made an adjustment at the start of the fourth set, finding where Wolfe was going with her attacks.
But with the score tied 16-16 in the fourth set, Whittier Christian scored four consecutive points, three off the right hand of Blaine, to gain separation.
With the Lady Heralds at match point, an attack from Beattie sailed long and the Lady Heralds rushed the court.
“Tonight was phenomenal, just the crowd, the energy, everything was amazing,” Hunter said. “I really think that we showed some resiliency tonight and Troy did too. We just continued to fight.”
The CIF Championship appearance is Whittier Christian’s fifth in the last six years.
This year, the Lady Heralds will try for back-to-back titles when they face Mayfield, a team they defeated in last year’s quarterfinals, 3-1.
“It means a lot to me for these girls to be able to experience this,” Hunter said. “I’m so excited for them to compete for each other, get after it and leave it out on the floor.”