College of the Canyons Cougars volleyball went down fighting in four sets in Wednesday night’s home matchup with the No. 22 Santa Monica Corsairs.
The Corsairs won the Western State Conference matchup, 25-14, 25-27, 25-22, 25-19.
Canyons (5-9, 1-2) shook out of its lopsided opening set loss and battled in a thrilling second game.
The Cougars sharpened up their serve receive and blocking, and just kept finding ways to score in the second. Canyons was pushed past 25 points but held on to win the second set and tie the match at 1-1.
COC outside hitter Kyla Dothard was steady throughout the match and led the team with 10 kills and a pair of aces. Dothard is a key part of the Cougars’ balanced offense that features four players within three total kills of one another on the season.
Santa Monica (11-5) also displayed a terrific balance and finished Wednesday’s contest with five Corsairs registering nine or more kills. Middle blocker Mylah Niksa and Mia Paulson led the charge with 11 kills each.
The Corsairs boasted strong blocking and passing, led by libero Sophia Odle. The sophomore libero tallied 27 digs and was constantly bumping COC’s fiercest of swings. Odle also led the team from the end line with a match-high five aces.
For co-head coach Clay Timmons, unforced errors were a big factor in Canyons’ demise.
“Credit to Santa Monica, they look good and I thought they had a good game plan,” Timmons said. “They certainly did not create as many unforced errors for themselves as we did. So we’ve got to be better than that. We’ve got to be more disciplined, understand the game plan and execute the game plan against these teams going forward If we want to have any kind of a shot at the playoffs.”
Santa Monica rode a 7-0 run early in the fourth set and seemingly had the win in the bag. The Corsairs found themselves up 19-11 before the improbable happened. Canyons stormed back into the set with some timely kills from Dothard and middle blocker Leah Gillie.
The Corsairs were cruising to victory but were stifled all around by Canyons’ resurgence. COC found points from the end line thanks to aces from setter Jaylyn Zavala and outside hitter Ana Vasquez.
COC also had new faces come in and make clutch plays, as Jazmarie Rhodes and Celeste Anaya, who had not played yet on Wednesday, registered some big kills.
”You saw some really great grit and fight in that fourth set,” Timmons said. “That is what I expect from them, start to finish, set in, set out. If they play like that all the time, then I’m pretty sure we will have a lot more W’s in that column.”
Canyons trailed as little as 22-19 but just missed out on a decisive fifth set.
The Cougars had a strong defensive set on the net in the third game. Gillie, Karisee Johnson and Kamia Benjamin all came up with touches and blocks in the close set.
Johnson and Benjamin led the team with four blocks each.
In the back row, libero Presley Golphenee led the Cougars with 26 digs.
Timmons’ young team features 13 freshmen, after 2022’s 16-sophomore team departed last season. There have been growing pains for the young, talented team adjusting to the college level of the sport.
“Right now we’re kind of going through growing pains,” Timmons said. “I think the learning curve is we’re playing the game at the higher JC level without any kind of real leadership. So there’s just a lot of teaching going on right now and it’s not going as quickly as I would have liked.”
COC has a ton of schedule left and has the time to figure out some leadership roles and more winning recipes on the court.
Canyons will take the court again on Friday, when the team heads to Antelope Valley College at 6 p.m. Timmons wants to see he and co-head coach Lisa Hooper’s team keep its head high while going through some tough WSC play.
“Just keep playing and don’t let any of these losses affect us from a mentality that we can’t or we can’t do it,” Timmons said. “The biggest victory for this squad this year would be increasing their mental confidence in themselves and each other. And if they can do that pretty quickly, then I think we’re gonna be alright.”