Lady Heralds lose in state championships
By Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
RIVERSIDE —- The Whittier Christian girls volleyball team saw a great season come to a close in the form of a 3-1 loss to Martin Luther King High in the first round of the CIF State championships, Tuesday night.
King’s 6-foot-2 junior middle blocker Kalei Greeley dominated when she got her opportunities, which led to the Lady Heralds loss, 20-25, 19-25, 28-26, 21-25.
“We were trying to run variety and I could tell in warmups that she had a spring in her step,” said Gene Krieger, King head coach. “We just kept feeding her. Confidence is a funny thing, when you have it, you do things you always hoped you would but never did consistently and we have confidence right now.”
Whittier Christian finishes the season with the CIF-SS Division 2A Championship as well as a 35-4 overall record.
Greeley was dominant with 30 kills, most of which were out of reach as they were placed perfectly between Whittier Christian’s front and back lines.
King’s senior setter Tiana Barnett finished with 50 assists to five different hitters.
Jennifer Washle topped that number for Whittier Christian with 52 assists, setting up six different teammates in the process.
Kylee Wolfe led the Lady Heralds with 21 kills, while Deanna Blaine and Stephanie Stevenson each added 14 kills, with a good portion of Stevenson’s going unassisted.
“It was a little difficult, they have some big girls over there,” Hunter said. “Our blocking and our size was a deterrent for us tonight and there was nothing we could do but play good defense behind it. We tried to slow them down a little bit and serve tough enough to get them off net, I thought we did a decent job of that.”
The teams immediately went toe-to-toe from the first volley, which was won by King after several possessions.
Tied 8-8, King made its move. Fueled by four consecutive kills by Greeley, the Lady Wolves went on a 8-1 run to claim a 16-9 lead.
Not to be outdone, Washle started finding her teammates to get back into the first game, assisting three kills by Wolfe and recording a tip kill of her own as the Lady Heralds responded with their own 8-1 run to tie it up at 17-17.
However, the Lady Heralds aided King when Blaine missed the mark on three late attacks and the Lady Wolves closed the set on a 7-1 run.
“We were running middle because our passing was pretty good,” Krieger said. “Any time you can run middle it makes life easier. Greeley makes up for a lot of mistakes.”
King was out of the gate much quicker in the second set, opening on a 12-4 run. Four different players scored early kills for the Lady Wolves and Greeley began to wreak havoc at the net.
Wolfe and Blaine helped the Lady Heralds mount a short comeback attempt, but Barnett spread the ball around for the Lady Wolves, helping King run away again as Regan Lough finished the set with an ace.
Facing a 2-0 deficit, the Lady Heralds dug deep in the third set and jumped out to a consistent four-point lead early.
Wolfe was strong from the outside and Stevenson took control in the middle as the Lady Heralds opened up a 8-3 run to lead 11-7.
“I loved the effort that they were fighting with,” Hunter said. “They got some big kills and the crowd got a little rowdy, but I think we continued to fight and that’s basically the only thing we can do, we couldn’t look at the scoreboard, we just had to keep fighting.”
However, as a few more Whittier Christian attacks fell out of bounds, the Lady Wolves chipped away as Mia Maddott got in a couple kills to help Greeley and eventually tied the set at 22-22.
Kylie Cooke gave the Lady Heralds the advantage twice before Stevenson put it away with two consecutive kills.
“They weren’t tracking us and they started going to our outsides the whole time,” Hunter said in regards to Stevenson’s success. “We decided we could put some pressure on them by making them think about slowing our middle down and so we could push the ball back to our outsides.”
King didn’t dwell on the set loss too long.
The Lady Wolves pounced on Whittier Christian early in the fourth set, holding a four-point lead at the midway point.
Again, Greeley recorded a block and four early kills in the fourth set while the Lady Heralds countered with Blaine, who had three consecutive kills early on.
At one point, the Lady Heralds pulled within one at 14-13, but that’s as close as they would get.
Greeley recorded three kills in a key late run to help King move on to the second round after winning the fourth set, 25-21.
“We didn’t expect this to be easier than CIF and it wasn’t,” Krieger said. “I’m glad they made us work and do a lot of rallies, it was exciting. It seemed like every other kill took several plays before someone got the point.”
The Lady Heralds will lose two seniors this season, but a huge group of players will have a chance to build on this year’s success.
“To see a team sit down at the beginning of the year and see them now with a CIF Championship and competing in State, that’s fun to see,” Hunter said. “It’s sad to see the seniors go, but I’m really proud of all of them.”