College of the Desert struggled to get many hits past College of the Canyons middle blocker Leah Gillie on Wednesday night.
Gillie sent back a new program record of 15 blocks, while also adding 10 kills in the Cougars’ win over the Desert Roadrunners.
COC was pushed to four sets but prevailed, 25-22, 25-17, 25-27, 25-16.
Gillie was on fire for most of the night but it didn’t quite hit her until after the match how big of a game she had.
“In the moment, it didn’t feel like I had 15 blocks, but it does feel great once you get like the big block and then everyone is cheering for you,” Gillie said. “It feels amazing. Then finding out afterwards that I got 15 was really awesome.”
Canyons (3-5) went on numerous runs to pull away from the Roadrunners throughout the match, highlighted by a 12-0 run in the second set after trailing 4-7.
Cougars co-head coaches Lisa Hooper and Clay Timmons didn’t look too fazed by the huge run.
“We’re young, so we are still a little emotional and we tend to feed off of the highs and get sucked into the lows,” Hooper said. “So, are we surprised when we go on runs? No, because we know we’re talented. Are we surprised when we go on runs in the other direction? Sometimes we’re still a little surprised, but we ought to just understand that we’re young and we’re still learning.”
COC’s young roster features only three sophomores to 14 freshmen.
Canyons took control early in the first set but stumbled due to self-inflicted wounds. COC pulled away multiple times but Desert (3-7) refused to go away as the opening set point was a near-dozen-possession rally. Cougars middle blocker Kamia Benjamin ended the rally and the first set with a kill.
COC steamrolled through the second set, riding the 12-0 run. Gillie and opposite hitter Priscilla Miranda did most of the heavy lifting as each caught fire with numerous blocks and kills.
Miranda finished the night with five kills and six blocks.
Desert again found some rhythm and jumped back into the set. However, Canyons’ lead was safe enough and a Naomi Greer kill ended the second set.
Down 2-0, the Roadrunners played their best set while the Cougars may have been at their worst. More self-inflicted wounds cost COC points and, before the team knew it, they were down 25-24. Gillie sparked the team with another block to tie the set at 25 but Desert pulled away and an ace from Arianna Hernandez pushed Wednesday’s match into the fourth set.
The Cougars’ offense, led by outside hitter Kyla Dothard with 12 kills, clicked right away in the fourth game. COC also flexed its strong serving skills with early back-to-back aces from libero Presley Golphene. The libero also led the defense with 37 digs.
Canyons maintained its lead and pulled away to win its first home match of the season.
The Cougars have taken some lumps early in the year but Hooper has liked how her team has responded and grown from each loss.
“I think it’s always good to play tough teams,” Hooper said. “I think that it’s a wake-up call for some of these girls to realize that the fitness is required to play high-level community college volleyball in California. So we’re getting fitter, we’re getting stronger, we’re getting more alert and aggressive and all of that I think will translate into their performance. So, would we have liked to have pulled some sets off some of those matches? We would have, but as long as they learn from it, we will be OK.”
Gillie, a freshman from Quartz Hill High School, was one of Hooper’s first commits of the offseason and is shaping into a top player.
“She was clearly a standout player at Quartz Hill High School, so she was on our radar,” Hooper said. “She was one of our first commits. We were really thankful that she decided to come to us. She’s incredibly talented, has a very high volleyball IQ, so she learns quickly. She’s adapted to the college level, I think amongst the fastest of the freshmen, and she just has a poise about her. She learns as the game is evolving as the matches evolve, and she tends to get a little bit better as the match goes on. That’s a gift for an athlete.”
Gillie is new to the team and college level but loves her team’s passion and will to win each point.
“Our power to continue and fight,” Gillie said when asked what stands out about her team. “We try to uplift ourselves. So I think we all have that motivation to continue, because we’re all freshmen. We all want to make a good impression. I think we all just want to stay motivated to continue playing.”
Canyons will now play Santa Barbara on Friday, a game in which Hooper can notch her 300th career win with the Cougars program. The match will be a tough one but the co-head coach just wants to see her team keep improving before Western State Conference play begins in a few weeks.
“I want to see progress,” Hooper said. “I want to see us clean up some of our unforced errors. We’re still scoring too many points for our opponent. It’s one thing if they’re forcing the error. It’s another thing if you’re serving it on a platter. So, if we do that, and we execute the system, I think we’re gonna be a force to be reckoned with. We’ve got all the parts. We just need to start humming.”
COC returns home to host Moorpark on Wednesday at 6 p.m.