Valencia Vikings girls’ volleyball was all over the shorthanded Canyon Cowboys on Thursday.
The Vikings swept the hosting Cowboys, 25-22, 25-19, 25-14, and are one win away from securing a playoff seed in what’s been a bumpy season at Valencia.
Valencia (6-11, 5-6) displayed peak balance as setters Cayden Hobrecker and Sienna Macaluso went to hitters all over the court. Senior outside hitter Elena Hernadez led the Vikes with six kills and was one of eight Vikings to register kills on Thursday.
Vikings libero Addison Degard led the defense with 20 digs and four aces. Valencia coach Kristin Dolan has seen Degard’s game take a leap recently as well as several other varsity members.
“Addie in the last couple of matches, has played incredibly,” Dolan said. “She’s doing her assignments, being disciplined and then putting us in good situations to get kills. Elena Hernandez has been playing some spectacular defense. And then Makayla Garcia has really been coming into her own. I think the defense is getting better because Makayla’s block is getting better. We’re able to play around her block.”
Canyon (9-16, 1-9) was without head coach Samantha Holcombe and outside hitter Parys Taylor on Thursday. However, the team still entered the opening set with a ton of energy and nearly stole the first game. Cowboys libero Theone Ngyuen was nearly impossible to hit at and registered 14 of her match-high 24 digs in the first set.
“(Theone) is unbelievable,” said Cowboys assistant coach Ariana Vargas. “She really controls the back row, has a good attitude and communicates well with her teammates. I think that’s what makes her such a successful libero.”
Nguyen’s back-row success led to better hits on the net where outsides Leyla Tejeda and Allyson Pedone were able to bring in some much-needed kills.
Tejeda led the Cowboys with seven kills and an ace.
Valencia struggled to serve in its first set as six service errors piled up into points for Canyon. The Vikes were able to settle in, with only three serving errors in the second and third sets, and control the match with their serve.
“We typically serve pretty tough,” Dolan said. “I think maybe we were just a little too aggressive to start so I told them to rein it in just a little bit and make them play the ball. And then they did and it worked, fancy that. As the serving progressed, obviously, the results of the games were in our favor after.”
The Cowboys’ serve receive woes led to numerous free balls, in turn setting up smooth attacks for the Vikings.
The Valencia surge led to a drop in Canyon’s originally undeniable energy as the Vikes cruised to victory.
“This team plays so well when they have high energy and they play as a team,” Vargas said. “They play for each other and they have fun when they’re doing it. When they start to make mistakes, they tend to get just a little bit in their head, and then from there, they start to sink. Once something good happens, they’re able to pick it up. We just need to avoid letting our team bleed points that are unnecessary.”
Canyon found a pulse late in the third set, down 23-7. The energy boost sparked a 7-1 run where the Cowboys showed they belong with big kills, digs and serves.
The 2023 season hasn’t been ideal for either of the two Foothill League teams. Valencia began the season 1-6 but has done just enough to be able to sneak into the playoffs. Canyon coincidentally started 4-0 but has struggled through league play.
“The top three teams in our league are ridiculous,” Dolan said. “They’re really good. After the first round of league play, we just wanted to compete with them better. We wanted to show up and put our best selves out there. I’ve been talking to (the team) a lot about the divisions that they’re in, and the divisions that we’re in. We got one more match to get out of this powerhouse league and then we’re into Division 5, where hopefully we can win a couple and see what we can do.”
Canyon will look to close out the season on a positive before returning the bulk of its roster next season. Taylor, Tejeda, Nguyen, Pedone, freshman middle blocker Olivia Turner and setters Laci Mills and Harneet Kaur all return to Canyon in 2024 in what could potentially be a turn of the tides for the program.
The Cowboys will host Castaic on Canyon’s senior night on Monday at 5:30 p.m.
Valencia will have to win to earn the fourth seed and will have to get through the fifth seeded Golden Valley, which can force a potential tiebreaker for a playoff spot with a win over the Vikes.
The Grizzlies host the Vikings on Monday at 5:30 p.m., for Golden Valley’s senior night in a battle for a postseason berth.