No. 1 Cathedral girls win volleyball barnburner over No. 2 Torrey Pines
Two perennial local power programs, teams ranked 1-2 in the section, sizeable energetic fan representation from both sides…all the makings of an exciting post-season volleyball match. That’s what it felt like, without the playoff implications when No. 1 Cathedral Catholic and No. 2 Torrey Pines squared off at the latter’s gym Wednesday night in what has become an annual must-see early season engagement. Fans definitely got their money’s worth from this one.
The defending CIF State champion Dons demonstrated their championship mettle, escaping from what appeared to be a match-ending deficit in the fourth set and then riding that momentum to dominate the fifth set tiebreaker for a 3-2 (21-25, 25-20, 23-25, 25-22, 15-9) victory.
The win, in its first match against a local opponent, improved Cathedral Catholic’s record to 8-2 while Torrey Pines absorbed its first loss and now sits 2-1. Although disappointed with the final result, veteran Torrey Pines Head Coach Brennan Dean knew what to expect coming in and, in the big picture, got what he wanted.
“This had a playoff feel,” said Dean. “We schedule Cathedral every year in a pre-season match because we hope to see them at the end of the season at the CIF Championship.
“I think that having an extremely challenging pre-season is something that can only make you stronger. We always play tough teams early even though we might not always be ready—it helps you figure out your weaknesses and correct them.”
Both teams had their ups-and-downs but the first three sets were all entertaining, featuring back-and-forth runs, long rallies and nifty defensive play. In game one, Torrey Pines let an early five-point edge slip away and despite seeming to be out of system frequently, got back on track to close it out, a back row bomb by sophomore Finley Krystkowiak providing a key spark at 21-18.
The play was much crisper in the second set. Torrey Pines trailed early but a huge solo block by senior Avery Merson pulled them even at 12. Cathedral went on a 6-3 spurt and senior Jenna Hanes, who had begun asserting herself more prominently, finished things by banging down a quick set over the middle to knot the match at one game apiece.
Dean’s club looked a bit weary at the start of the third set and quickly found itself down by five. Five consecutive points, capped by a Layla Williams ace got things turned around and after pushing the margin to 21-18 the Falcons were primed to finish things off. But it was the Dons turn to stiffen up and a tip by Hanes evened the score at 23. This time, Torrey Pines did not squander the opportunity, a crosscourt kill by senior Kiera Edwards and a Merson kill off the block secured the final two points.
The fourth set was an instant classic. Falcon setter Emery Gonzales started feeding Krystkowiak heavily and a flurry of kills from the powerful left side hitter pushed TP to a five-point lead. Up two games to one, at 15-10, the Falcons had driven Cathedral to the brink. Head Coach Juliana Conn used a time out to steady her charges.
“I told the girls it’s not over until it’s over, just believe you’re going to score,” said Conn. “We’ve been in tough situations before and it all starts with belief. We made a few defensive plays right after that and began to get that belief back.”
The message clearly got through as the Dons rattled off 10 of the next 15 points to equalize at 20. With Torrey Pines reeling, a combo block by Hanes and Sophia Johnson got Cathedral back on top by one and a pair of sharp angled drives by the 6-3 Hanes made it 23-20 and moments later the match was heading to a fifth set.
Cathedral went wire-to-wire in a decisive fifth game that had little of the drama seen in the first four. Even when Hanes was on the sideline, subbed out from the back row, the Dons got key plays from several sources to extend their lead. Hanes returned to help finish the job, scoring back-to-back on a well-placed tip and a solo block. Conn saw a switch in Torrey Pines’ approach when victory seemed to be in its grasp in game four.
“For a while they were really playing to win and had us on our heels,” said Conn. “Then, suddenly in the fourth game, when they opened up the lead, they kind of lost it, seemed to be playing just to survive and we started playing free.”
For several stretches late in the match, it looked like a one-on-one slugfest between Krystkowiak and Hanes. Krystkowiak led all players with 31 kills (on a massive 75 swings. Hanes chalked up 29 kills for Cathedral and seemed to be front and center in all the key moments. She got Dean’s attention.
“Jenna does a nice job, I was expecting it to show and wasn’t surprised by her fantastic performance,” he said. “She made it difficult for us to contain her and when we weren’t able to, she was really good in sets two through five.”
Overall, both coaches had positive takeaways.
“We lost 10 seniors from last year so I’m still trying to figure out my team,” said Conn, who has led Cathedral to the last two San Diego CIF Open Division crowns. “But I love seeing where we are after just two or three weeks of practice.
“The win was great but it was also great for me to see that they can fight through a five-game match and play that kind of volleyball at the end.”
Dean, who has six CIF Open titles of his own at Torrey Pines, said, “I feel good that we’re taking sets off a team like Cathedral Catholic. Our offense, at times, can be pretty lethal but we need to be more consistent with some of the simple parts of the game, like serving and passing. We’ve just got keep building. There were a lot of things we can build on tonight.”
Hanes, of course, was elated about the win and, despite being on the receiving end of a lot of “good-natured” razzing from the Torrey Pines student section, thoroughly enjoyed the environment.
“I love the crowd, that was my favorite part of the game,” smiled Hanes. “I got a little heated at the end.
“I didn’t mean to but they were yelling at me all game. I had to give them a little something back.”
If the season works out as expected, she’ll probably have another chance. And next time it won’t be for Wednesday night pre-season bragging rights.
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