Spanish Springs sophomore outside hitter Callie Aberle pounded a kill for the first point of the match. That was pretty
much the highlight of the night for the Cougars as Damonte was never threatened by the High Desert League’s No. 4 seed.
The postseason foes were actually tied at 3-3 in Game 1 after Damonte’s Emily Byrne hit a ball wide. That’s when the wheels fell off the Spanish Springs wagon. The host Mustangs scored the next five points to initiate an 11-5 run. The outburst saw Damonte Ranch go ahead 14-6.
The Game 1 score was 18-9 in the Mustangs’ favor when Spanish Springs gave up a 7-1 run that ended the game.
“We thought we’d have to start strong and we didn’t do it,” Cougars coach Frank Sandomenico said. “We missed five of our first six serves. We kind of just watched. They’re a good team, but we didn’t make them earn it as much as we should have.”
The second game was eerily similar to the first. A kill by SSHS junior middle blocker Emily Meister left the Cougars down by just a point, 4-3, early in the second contest. However, just like in the initial game, Damonte Ranch put together a tell-tale run that took the wind out of the Cougars’ sails. The Mustangs reeled off a 17-3 spurt that saw them forge ahead 21-6 en route to the final 16-point Game 2 triumph.
“I think we needed to make a statement (by getting off to the fast start). We didn’t research or know much about Spanish Springs, so we had to come out bangin’,” Mustangs coach Velvet Steel said. “We talked about it in practice and we talked before the game, you can’t play around anymore. This is the playoffs. You have to prove you belong here.”
Game 3 was the most competitive of the match. Spanish Springs (14-17) led 3-0 after a good start. A hitting error by Damonte’s Chaiy Steel left the Cougars with a 6-4 lead minutes later.
Damonte Ranch responded with a 5-0 run to take a lead it did not relinquish. Still, Spanish Springs had some fight left. The Cougars scored three of the next four points capped by a Meister kill and trailed just 11-10.
Damonte, which has won 17 of its last 18 matches, quickly erased any Spanish Springs hopes of stealing a game by pouring on 10 unanswered points to grab a 21-10 edge. The Cougars did pull within 22-15 following a Meister kill and two Aberle aces, but the rally proved too little too late.
The stat highlights were few and far between for Spanish Springs. Meister finished with a team-high six kills while Aberle had four. Freshman Lyndsey Anderson contributed seven assists, five digs and two aces to the SSHS crew’s losing cause.
“That had to be our worst passing game of the year. I didn’t see all the stats yet, but I know we haven’t passed that poorly,” Sandomenico said.
On the flip side, Damonte Ranch had some impressive individual numbers in the sweep. Rae Steel had 14 kills while Chaiy Steel had 12. Kennedy Hall put down nine blocks while Brenda Walker lifted 19 digs. Byrne, the Mustang's setter, gave away 25 assists.
Despite Wednesday’s lopsided playoff loss, it would be hard for Cougar fans to feel too bad about their fall campaign. The Spanish Springs volleyball program had struggled through seven years of futility. But, in Sandomenico’s first season at the helm, (2008) the Cougars showed signs of life and just missed the postseason after losing a tiebreaker. This year, the Cougars got over that hump and qualified for postseason play for the first time in the school’s nine-year history.
“Tonight’s hard but we took a step forward,” Sandomenico said. “Last year, we felt like we took a step and went from an embarrassment to respectability. This year we took another step forward and made the playoffs. We’re a program people care about now.”