Temple City outside hitter Taylor Yu powered her team to victory on Saturday over the hosting Valencia Vikings.
The Rams took the CIF Division 5 second-round matchup in four sets, winning 25-27, 24-22, 25-21, 25-26.
Yu, a Stanford commit, matched her season high with 33 kills and also added five aces from the end line.
Vikes coach Kristin Dolan prepared her team for the crafty Yu, knowing it’d be nearly impossible to stop her but possible to slow the outside hitter down.
“I feel like we handled her pretty well,” Dolan said. “She’s awesome. Clearly she’s gonna get a lot of kills but I think that we handled it pretty well. We just didn’t convert it to points on our side.”
Valencia (9-17) took the first set behind some clutch play toward the end of the long set. The Vikings went up 7-1 early before the Rams woke up and nearly tied the set on a 5-0 run. Valencia kept it close but needed to play perfect, down 24-22. Senior Grace Knudson delivered two huge kills to tie the game, 24-24. An ace from Vikes outside hitter Luca Heerlein set up set point and a hitting error from Yu gifted set one to Valencia.
The Vikings jumped to another early lead but then fell behind as the team struggled to get under hits from Yu. The Stanford commit displayed she isn’t just a big hitter and delivered three consecutive aces for Temple City (15-4) to go up 21-14 in the second.
Valencia nearly stunned Temple City as sophomore setter Cayden Hobrecker went back to serve and completely flipped the set. Hobrecker’s tough spot serving led to three aces and an 8-0 run that tied the game at 22-22.
The Rams closed out the set with three straight points but Dolan was impressed with her young setter handling a high-pressure situation in two straight matches.
Yu was the catalyst in the final three sets, especially in the third set, where she totaled 11 kills and another ace. The Rams got out to a 16-5 lead but again the Vikings showed poise and kept chipping away. Valencia junior Landon Poirier added three of her six kills in the set. However, more Viking miscues led to a 1-2 hole in the match.
“I’ve seen us do it better,” Dolan said. “I’ve seen us control our ball a lot better than what we did. And I think that was the difference in the game. I don’t think we got as many kills as we normally get. We played some pretty great defense but if you give (Yu) five opportunities to get a kill in one rally, she’s probably going to get a kill. We just didn’t put enough balls away on our side.”
Poirier and senior Elena Hernandez led the Vikes with six kills and 14 digs each.
Heerlein caught fire early in the fourth set with Valencia’s back against the wall. The outside hitter tallied five points to go up 10-8 in the pivotal set. Temple City tied the set up at 12-12 before exploding toward the finish, and a kill from junior Kaitlin Kong officially pushed the Rams into the CIF quarterfinals.
Dolan was nonetheless proud of her young team, who even after taking lump after lump this season, won a playoff match.
“Overall, I’m very proud of them,” Dolan said. “We don’t have a Stanford, UCLA or Long Beach commit. We have 19 girls that worked hard, gave it their best effort and came into practice every day ready to work. As a coach, what more can I ask for? They always came back ready to work and try and better themselves for the next match.”
Valencia will now graduate eight seniors including captains Hernandez and Heerlein. The two finished Saturday’s match with six kills and were crucial in the Vikings’ success this season.
“I think without them it would have been a rough year, so we will miss them,” Dolan said. “But we will prepare and we’ll get the next ones ready to go. So I’m not worried about it, but they were great players.”
Temple City advances to the third round and will host its first playoff match this season. The Rams will host the Ventura Cougars on Wednesday at 6 p.m.