As soon as Toni Bito’s feet left the ground, the crowd went silent. Or at least it did in her head. Her right hand made contact with the ball, snapping it down quickly for a kill that forced a fifth and final set in College of the Canyons’ match against San Diego Mesa College in the first round of the CCCAA SoCal Regional playoffs.
“We all wanted it really bad and I just gave it my all,” Bito said. “I blocked out the audience and then like, it was just like a good outcome.”
The Canyons crowd was silenced again, but this in reality as the Cougars dropped the fifth set and lost the playoff match 3-2 at COC on Tuesday.
The Olympians, seeded No. 10 in the postseason tournament, came out fast and aggressive in the first set, jumping out to a 4-1 lead capped by a kill from Zoe Tippetts. Canyons recovered to take an 11-10 lead on a sideline violation and held onto it for the majority of the frame.
San Diego Mesa (17-12) was able to tie it up at 24-all and go point-for-point with COC before finally taking the set 28-26.
Although the Cougars, the No. 7 seed in playoffs, scored back-to-back points to open the second set, the Olympians bounced back and eventually eclipsed COC 11-5 on a block from Tippetts. Several ensuing mistakes hindered Canyons and San Diego Mesa won the set 25-19.
“I think our thing all year has been when we’ve lost matches, we’re just a little bit unfocused, we’re a little bit undisciplined and we’re not individuals here and there are not staying on what they’re responsibilities are,” said coach Clay Timmons.
COC (18-9) turned things around in the third set, gaining a 4-0 lead early and hanging on to it. Later in the set, the Cougars went on a five-point run that ended with a Rachel Caruthers kill to bring the score to 21-18.
Shayla Johnson nailed a kill to set up the set point, then finished off the stanza with another kill at 25-19.
The momentum carried over into the fourth set, despite some opposition from outside hitters Tippetts and Raven Casas, the latter of which was a dynamic offensive player with an impressive vertical that gave Canyons headaches all night.
“We knew she’s super athletic and she’s going to get her kills,” Timmons said, “but we also knew we were going to set her the majority of the balls, so we were kind of frustrated when we didn’t have at least a double block every time.”
Nevertheless, COC held the Olympians to under 20 points and rattled off three straight strikes from Caruthers, Ricki Patenaude and Bito for a 25-17 score.
Casas battled in the final set, recording seven kills in a frame that ended 15-7 in San Diego Mesa’s favor.
“We all wanted it so bad, but you know, unfortunately, we had the bad ending,” Bito said. “But for everything, I’m proud of my team, I’m proud of what we went through in