Saugus girls’ volleyball (35-2) won its home CIF Division 2 state matchup over the visiting El Capitan Vaqueros (29-12) on Thursday.
The Centurions won the match with scores of 25-14, 25-20, 21-25 and 25-17.
Saugus was pushed to four sets for the first time in eight matches and just the third time this year, but still got it done when they needed to.
Vaqueros outside Madison Triplett would be another 500-kill force the Centurions would need to slow down in order to win. Saugus held Triplett to a slow start but crafty tips and big swings saw the Vaquero junior tally up a match-high 21 kills on the night.
Saugus libero Gabriella Cascione was key in containing Triplett. The always calm passer racked up 21 digs to help her team secure the win but gave it all up to her blockers on the net.
“We knew that she was going to be very good outside but our blocking shut her down so greatly today,” said Cascione. “That was honestly why it made our defense easier. Our blocking just really stepped it up today, which helped everyone out.”
The Centurions have had very few moments of looking off their game and Thursday’s matchup was no different. Saugus jumped out to a 14-3 lead over the rattled Vaqueros. El Capitan was out of sync and had three balls hit the ground off a clean touch in the first 17 points.
Opposite hitter Taylor Treahy hammered her sixth kill of the opening set to end it 25-14. Treahy led Saugus again with 14 kills and nine blocks.
The Vaqueros entered the second set as a whole different team. The team was swinging smarter and passing better. El Capitan was tipping deep to the back line and finding some success when they hit their marks. Saugus typically has a strong passing presence around the edges of the court but had a handful of balls just fall out of reach.
The adjustments managed to make it a tighter set but Saugus would still go up 2-0 thanks to consecutive errors by El Capitan.
The Vaqueros again started strong to begin the third set. Early kills from sophomore Savannah Simpson kept El Capitan close to the lead early in the set.
Simpson finished her night with nine kills.
An ace from outside hitter Madelyn Wutzke would give the Vaqueros the lead in the third set that they’d never let go of. The team went on a 6-0 run to give them just enough cushion to keep the Centurions at bay.
Saugus would clean up their sloppy serve receive later in the third game but it was too late to catch El Capitan. Back-to-back kills from Triplett would send the game to a fourth set and hand Saugus its eighth dropped set of the year.
The Centurions would go on to play a fourth set for just the third time this season and for the first time in the playoffs. Saugus head coach Zach Ambrose told his team after the dropped set simply that they’re the better team.
“They just have to play it every set they have; no team ever wants to quit,” said Ambrose. “They’re always going to come out hard and we really just didn’t execute the game plan in the third set but we came back.”
El Capitan had a ton of momentum but Saugus would manage to keep notching point after point. The Vaqueros fought hard especially in a long, 10-possession rally that ended with Saugus taking a 14-8 lead.
Saugus’ sophomore outsides would be key in clinching the state match. Morgan Guardado knocked down a big kill to go up 17-8 but the team celebrated Leila Ballard, whose dig on a great spike by Triplett set up the play.
Ballard finished with 12 kills while setter Milani Lee racked up 36 assists.
Guardado was clutch again late in the game knocking down her sixth kill of the night to go up 23-15. The lead was enough to rattle up the Vaqueros as consecutive errors again cost the team the set and match.
Saugus has embraced the challenge of the state tournament. There’s less time to prepare, the potential of long road trips and tough teams from all over the state. For Ambrose’s team, they just want to keep playing the game they love.
“They’re just ready to play again,” said Ambrose. “They’re ready to go. So wherever we run to be on the road finally, no matter where it is, they’re ready to go and play the next game.”
Saugus will now move onto the CIF Division 2 State semifinals for its first playoff road matchup this year. The team will face off with the Chaminade Eagles (37-3) on Saturday at 6 p.m.
“We’re excited to see what team’s gonna beat us or if a team is gonna beat us,” said Cascione. “We’re excited to see and keep being tested.”