Centurions have yet to drop a set in three playoff matches
The Foothill League champions will play for a CIF-Southern Section title.
The Saugus girls’ volleyball team (32-2) battled back from some early challenges to beat the Polytechnic Panthers (18-3) in the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 semifinals on Saturday at Saugus High with scores of 25-19, 25-17, 25-16.
“I’m so excited,” Saugus junior Taylor Treahy said. “I’m still in shock, like, we’re really going to finals this year, after last year.”
The Centurions were bounced from the semifinals in last year’s playoff run, but they weren’t going to let that happen again. Treahy led the team with 15 kills and two aces, while Saugus senior Milani Lee had a team-high 28 assists. Saugus sophomore Gabriela Cascione had a team-high 14 digs.
Saugus has won each of its nine sets in three playoff matches thus far, keeping opponents below 20 points in all of them.
“I feel like we’ve made so much progress from our club seasons, and then coming into high school, coming off the club, we just all get to put that together,” Lee said. “And our team dynamic is just amazing, on and off the court we all get along so well. So, I think that’s a major contributor.”
Saugus will now face Campbell Hall (20-9), which defeated Roosevelt in the other semifinal, 3-1, in the championship next Saturday at 6 p.m. Saugus is set to host that match, according to Saugus head coach Zach Ambrose.
All four semifinal teams will enter the state playoffs, Ambrose said.
Poly put a scare into Saugus early, going up 9-2 in the first set. The Centurions would bounce back to tie it at 12-12 before taking its first lead at 13-12. A 5-0 run later in the set put the Centurions firmly out in front.
“Our sophomores came in a little nervous because this is where we went out last year,” Ambrose said. “So, they were probably a little bit more nervous than they were in the first two [playoff matches]. But once they kind of took a breath and a couple of plays went by, then they were going after it.”
The second set is when Saugus really went after it, opening up with a 7-3 advantage. The Centurions would go on to make it 20-10, causing Poly to call timeout and regroup. That gave the Panthers some spirit to pull out a 5-0 run, but Saugus held strong to win the second set.
“We get on those runs,” Ambrose said. “When they get super confident, they’ll go on a run on almost anybody in our division.”
Poly showed in the third set that it could handle those runs, and make a few of its own. The Panthers pushed Saugus for the first half of the first set, but leading 12-10, Saugus went on an 8-2 run to put Poly behind for good.
Ambrose gave his team credit for being able to adjust to the changes that Poly had made in that third set to unsettle Saugus at the beginning.
“When you get to this level, they’re going to make adjustments and then we got to make adjustments, and it’s constant back and forth,” Ambrose said. “They did make a couple adjustments on us – their serving kept us out of system quite a bit and didn’t allow us to hit, but then we finally were able to resettle in and then we made our final adjustment for the win.”
The Centurions are on fire, and it shows with the quality of depth that they have. Treahy and Lee were the combination to watch – as they typically are – but the Centurions also got six kills each out of senior Naomi Greer and sophomore Leila Ballard, while Ballard and sophomore Morgan Guardado had nine digs each. Lee added five kills of her own, one ahead of the four that Guardado and senior Shelby Scott got.
Not all of those kills were the typical spikes that are associated with volleyball. Quite a few were simply well-placed touches that Poly just couldn’t get to. Lee put that down to the preparation that the team went through to make sure everyone knew how to best attack each situation.
“If the defense on the other side has a certain way of playing, or we see the libero comes up a lot, if the set is tied or whatever, then we know to place it in area two, or we go back behind the libero, things like that,” Lee said. “Just kind of reading how they play and then adapting to that.”
Saugus will now look to complete the Southern Section sweep after the Centurions also swept Thousand Oaks and Trabuco Hills. Ambrose said it was the second-round match against Thousand Oaks that saw his players really turn it around and look like the team it is now.
“We struggled a little bit against [Thousand Oaks] in the second round, because we hadn’t played in a while,” Ambrose said. “We hadn’t played some tough competition for a couple of weeks. So, it took us a minute, but then once they re-locked in, they’ve been playing amazing.”