West Ranch Wildcat girls’ volleyball entered the CIF Southern Section Playoffs as the top seed in Division 4 and displayed why they’re the top-ranked team in Division 4.
The Wildcats swept the visiting Burroughs Bears on Thursday, 25-21, 25-15, 25-18, and now advance into the round of 16.
The Cats (18-2) were as usual led by opposite hitter Kennedy Osunsanmi, who tallied 16 kills and three aces. While the UCLA-bound opposite typically leads the team, head coach Jamey Ker was proud of his outsides and middles for getting more involved and balancing out the offense.
“It’s been a focus of ours that we can get more productivity out of Kennedy by not relying on her so much, which also builds confidence in the other girls,” Ker said.
The Bears (14-16) didn’t look like a 32-seed for a large portion of the match. Burroughs fed its hard-hitting middles Khloe Pavia and Sadie Lomet, who combined for 12 kills and also received major production from freshman Zoe Davis’ serve.
“It was pretty obvious right out of the gate that their middles were pretty solid,” Ker said. “Those girls took some good rips on the ball, and maybe towards the end of the third set, we started to slow them down, but it took us longer than I would have liked. But that’s credit to them. Those girls had a lot of different shots and we’re mixing it up. And they were a great serving team.”
Down 20-14 in the first set, Davis sparked a 5-0 run to reel in the Wildcats. The freshman’s tricky serving disorganized the West Ranch serve receive and revitalized the Burroughs offense.
The Wildcats eventually forced a side out and jumped back up before an Osunsanmi kill ended the set.
Ker’s game plan was simple but effective in round one of the postseason.
“Just making sure that we had good ball control and stayed consistent,” Osunsanmi said.
The Bears found some early rhythm at the end line again in the second set but just couldn’t find enough points to pull away. The Bears led 8-7 before the Cats woke up and took the second set. Wildcats outside hitter Jadyn Tunnell registered back-to-back kills to help the team pull away with the lead.
Osunsanmi still made her presence felt in the set, registering nine points, including two consecutive aces to end the second game.
West Ranch setter Dani Clewis found some points on the net during the third set. The setter showed great hands, registering West Ranch’s one of two blocks in the match and also delivered the game-sealing dump kill. Clewis attacked in opportune times but Burroughs was ready for the crafty setter, who finished with two kills and an ace.
Wildcats outside hitter Joeleen Reynolds also came up clutch in the third set, where she added four of her seven kills. Reynolds, Clewis, middle blocker Grace Kelley and libero Alexandra Seres are all just sophomores. During the summer, Ker was unsure what his team would look like after graduating multiple starters. However, the emergence of Clewis and Reynolds, as well as Kelley transferring over from Trinity, has given West Ranch a new pulse.
“We should have been worse offensively this year but we haven’t been,” Ker said. “I think that’s a huge credit to Dani delivering the ball the way she has been but also those girls stepping up.”
West Ranch will move on to the second round for the first time in two years, while Burroughs will have to wait another year to end its playoff-win drought. The Bears are postseason regulars in the Southern Section but haven’t won a playoff set since 2018.
Osunsanmi has been part of numerous CIF playoff and club national championships teams. The opposite feels her team’s energy has been a driving force to West Ranch’s success.
“Our energy, the hype is always there,” Osunsanmi said. “We’re always supporting each other. When we’re down and our energy is up, it’s really easy for us to bounce back.”
Ker’s young team has a championship window but now the group full of underclassmen still control their own destiny.
“Being the No. 1 seed, we’re looking at it going, ‘this is actually something that we might be able to accomplish,’” Ker said. ”I think they see the light at the end of the tunnel and we’ll try to keep them focused on the steps that are gonna take them to that end of the tunnel.”
The Wildcats will remain home and host the Warren Bears (16-2), another strong Division 4 team with just two losses on the year. Warren will be another challenging Bear opponent for the Wildcats, but Ker’s team is preparing to face the toughest the section has to offer.
“We’re gonna hit that adversity at some point and face a team that’s really gonna challenge us,” Ker said. “We’re going to have to continue to support each other in a positive manner. And that’s been the thing that’s carried us so far to 17-2, and it’s going to be the thing that carries us to a CIF title.”
West Ranch hosts Warren in the CIF Division 4 second round of playoffs on Saturday at 6 p.m.