With their backs against the wall and facing elimination, Trinity Classical Academy dug deep in a CIF-Southern Section Division 8 quarterfinals girls volleyball match against Bishop Diego at the Henry Mayo Fitness Center on Wednesday.
Coming together as a team, the Knights won the fourth game by double digits and forced a fifth and decisive game to win in five, 19-25, 25-17, 21-25, 25-14, 15-7, to advance to the program’s first-ever semifinal match.
“I think our girls chose to really dig in and trust each other to do their jobs,” said Trinity head coach Rebecca Peluffo. “We finally found ourselves in our system and the flow that we play in. It honestly came down to them trusting each other and knowing that they are going to do their job well for each other.”
The match didn’t start ideally for the Knights (19-9 overall) as the team fell behind 5-4 after three consecutive errors. A Nicole Amoroso block turned the momentum in the Knights favor, but just when it looked like Trinity was turning the corner with a Paige Kim or Reagan Fernandez kill, the Cardinals’ defense came up with timely digs to keep the Knights’ attack at bay.
Kim found her rhythm later in the game, executing back-to-back kills to keep Trinity within striking range at 17-14 and 18-16, but down the stretch showed her frustration after a hit went into the net, giving Bishop Diego a 22-14 advantage.
Coming out of the timeout, the Knights scored one more point, but errors got them best of them as they fell by six.
Trinity came back with a furious 4-1 run to begin the second game and settled in playing their brand of volleyball and it showed when Fernandez and Katie Brown combined to block Bishop Diego’s Kaitlyn Hoidal to put the Knights up 12-9.
After a couple Cardinals errors, the Knights found themselves ahead 15-10, forcing the visitors to call a timeout. On the other side of the timeout, an ace by Fernandez and a hitting error by Bishop Diego made it 17-10 in Trinity’s favor.
Battling back, the Cardinals went on an 4-0 run, but Trinity combatted it by scoring eight of the final 11 points to tie the match up at 1-1 in games.
“Serving and serve-receive are always the biggest things in a match and it either makes it or breaks it for us and I think the girls did a great job of finding a way to settle into taking care of the serves and getting runs when we needed runs,” Peluffo said. “Especially, on serve-receive too, in the fifth set we found a way to side-out on the first ball every time. They did a great job mentally because it takes a lot of mental focus to be able to do that as well.”
Knights senior outside hitter Tori Fay made her presence felt to begin the third game, hammering home a sideline kill as well as sacrificing her body going after loose ball after loose to give the Knights an early advantage.
There was a scary moment when Kim went diving after a loose ball and collided with the wall. Play was stopped for a brief moment as Paige was helped to the sideline with an apparent right hand injury.
Kim re-entered the game a couple plays later and appeared to be fine.
“Tori is a super-passionate player who sells out for her team,” Peluffo said. “It just shows in the way she plays, she’s willing to hit the floor and sprawl into the wall, just like Paige did. Without them on the court I think just the energy and the drive is totally different and they have a huge impact on our team.”
Unfortunately, neither Fay or Kim’s play could regain the lead for Trinity as they fell and trailed 2-1 games.
That’s when the match took a turn in the Knights’ favor.
Storming out a 5-0 lead, Trinity caught Bishop Diego (13-14) off guards to take the advantage. They returned the favor scoring five of the next six points to get within one point.
After Bishop Diego called a timeout down 13-10, Riley Spector showed off her arm with an ace that began a six-point run, forcing yet another Cardinals timeout down 19-10.
The lead was too big for any type of comeback, coupled with stout defense, the Knights came away with a double-digit win to force a fifth and decisive game.
“I think all season we have been trying to train the fight and a match is never over until that final point is won and our girls have that,” Peluffo said. “They have done a really great job of establishing that in the way that we play and it helped us come back and show them that we weren’t done fighting and that we wanted that win.”
Battling back down 2-1 games, the Knights didn’t take the opportunity to do something never done in the program’s history lightly as Kim described ahead of the final game.
“Coach had a little pep talk before telling us to let this sit on you and this could be the last set together as a team,” Kim said. “The thought of it just made me so sad and I think everyone shared the feeling that we really need to come together and give it all this game because that could have been our last set of the year.”
Listening to their coaches’ words, the Knights put the mettle to the test, electrifying the crowd as they soared out to a 7-4 lead and after a Tamar Tchilingirian and Lily Caddow stuff and kill, respectively, the Knights led 9-5.
Coming out of a Cardinals’ timeout ahead 12-5, the Knights put the game to bed with a no-look kill by Amoroso, a hitting error by the visitors and a Kim kill to defeat Bishop Diego in five and advance to the semifinals.
“We’ve had so many of these games where we go to five sets and we push through every single time,” Kim said. “We don’t let losses in the beginning keep us down, but we just keep pushing. It’s something that I feel so blessed to be a part of, it’s really special.”
Trinity plays St. Bernard at 6 p.m. on Saturday. Location is to be announced.