Hart girls volleyball caught off guard by Los Alamitos

Hart defenders Ruby Duncan (10) and Audrey Welch (24) go up to block a shot by Los Alamitos at Hart on Oct. 24. Dan Watson/The Signal

The Hart girls volleyball team hosted Los Alamitos in a CIF-Southern Section Division 2 first-round playoff game at Hart on Thursday.

Coming out of the gates a little sluggish, the Indians fell behind the Griffins, a recurring theme throughout the match, and fell in four games, 20-25, 25-22, 13-25, 15-25.

“To be honest, we weren’t quite ourselves the entire match,” said Hart head coach Mary Irilian. “In Game 2 there was more of a glimpse of our normal selves, excited for every point that we get. I had to remind the girls that when they play other teams in league, they know someone on that team and it makes it more personal, you’ve got to also find a personal connection with teams that are out of our league and create that motivation. It started to pick up in Game 2, unfortunately, their serving was very aggressive and we just couldn’t get ourselves in a rhythm with our serve-receiver passing.”

Los Alamitos (26-11 overall) came out on fire, scoring eight of the first nine points in the first game, thanks in large part to three consecutive aces by Allie Livingston.

The Indians countered with three points of their own capped off by a Grace Eck ace to get within one point at 10-9 of the visitors.

But any time that Hart would get within striking range, Los Alamitos’ Abby Karich would hammer home a kill to subdue the Hart run and in turn pump up the Griffins on a run of their own.

Two Hart hitting errors forced Irilian to call the first timeout of the match, down 21-17. But out of the timeout, Los Alamitos scored five of the final seven points to take the first game.

Hart (13-7) found some life in the second game as Megan Soto showcased her offensive and defensive skills leading Hart to 3-1 lead after stuffing Kamryn Parsonage at the net, and then again with a big kill to put Hart up 8-2.

The Griffins went on a 13-5 run and tied the game at 11-11 to take their first lead of the game, up 15-14, after a Hart hitting error. 

Down the stretch, Audrey Welch entered the game and made an impact right away with a kill down the middle of the court for the Indians. Soto followed with yet another kill forcing a Los Alamitos timeout, down 22-20. 

A block and a Welch tip-kill a couple points later and Hart tied the match winning the second game.

“Offensively, we were much better, but that was also due to our passing,” Irilian said of their spirited play in the second game. “We didn’t have as many aces against us, we were passing in system and our pin hitters were putting the ball away more effectively. Just overall, Game 2, out of the gate we came off really well and then they started creeping back in. But having the lead early gave the girls confidence that they could actually beat them and close out.” 

The Griffins didn’t take the three-point loss lightly, blazing yet another four-point lead as Jacinda Ramirez recorded three of four serves for aces.

Ruby Duncan made her presence felt with a kill that ricocheted off a Los Alamitos player’s face to get within two points.

Down 12-11, there was a questionable digs call that swung the momentum in the Griffins’ favor sparking them to three 3-0 run and forcing another Hart timeout.

Hart couldn’t contain the Los Alamitos offensive attack giving up two more runs of three points out of the timeout and a four-point run to seal the third game.

“Everytime they were serving they would have three- or four-point runs and then when we would serve, we would get one point,” Irilian said. “You have to win one of those, the receive battle or serves battle.”

Rolling over into the fourth game, Los Alamitos continued the stellar serving on the night with an early ace by Allie Livingston and another one by Ramirez to go ahead 6-3.

Making sacrifices throughout the night, Eck threw her body time and time again after loose balls trying to set her teammates up Soto and Duncan for kills and got the team back in it, down 10-8.

“All year we have groomed that within her, as if she’s going to be the starting setter and she has to deliver, so with all the passing all over the place she was doing her best to help the team in any way,” Irilian said of Eck. “That saved us on a lot of plays, so kudos to her for making that effort and trying to keep the team alive in that area.”

Los Alamitos was just too much as the Indians were able to get within one point a couple times at 12-11 and 14-13, but couldn’t get over the hump to fall by 10 points.

Soto led the team with 16 kills and 19 digs, Duncan followed with seven kills and 17 digs, Eck dished out 24 assists and Lina Elsee had 13 digs.

The Indians finish the year as back-to-back Foothill League champs, tying with West Ranch for the league title, but are confident with the slew of returning young talent will have an opportunity to be back in the playoffs yet again next year.

“What’s good is we had five sophomores so we have young people who learned the system and the expectations, so hopefully rolling into next year, it’s kind of already dialed in and we just fill in a couple pieces and then we can run with it,” Irilian said. 

“Also we had Kylie Tengberg and Audrey Welch as freshmen last year, so right now they are back-to-back league champs. I’m pretty sure they would like to go all four years being league champs, so I’m hoping they can kind of spearhead that motivation for the team to step it up and work hard for that.”

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