First published in the Sept. 30 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.
The longtime rivalry league match between La Cañada High School and visiting South Pasadena’s varsity girls’ volleyball teams on Tuesday did not disappoint, as the two powerhouse programs lasted five sets.
And it was the Spartans who established themselves as the team to beat in the Rio Hondo League by narrowly claiming their 12th consecutive victory, 21-25, 30-28, 26-24, 21-25 and 15-10.
It was a record-setting night for La Cañada senior outside hitter Olivia Toland, who smashed a career-high 37 kills. She also recorded 16 digs and four blocks.
“This was one of our biggest rivals that we’re going to play all season, and I had to put my whole heart out on the court and give it everything that I have,” Toland said.
The first set was deadlocked early, as both teams traded points up to an 8-8 tie. Three consecutive scores gave SPHS a slim 11-8 lead, but later a kill by Toland and an fine block by sophomore Haley Clark cut South Pasadena’s lead to 21-18. Sophomore libero Chloe Nussbaum added a final kill to La Cañada’s line, but the set ended with a 25-21 SPHS win. This marked the first set LCHS (19-2 overall, 4-0 in league) had lost since its match against La Salle on Aug. 31.
The second set was more intense than the first, as it was also the highest-scoring of the entire match. SPHS snatched an early 4-1 lead, but a few errors in favor of La Cañada in addition to two kills by Toland tied the set, 5-5. SPHS started to pull away after a La Cañada error made it 18-14. The Spartans found some life and managed to tally six consecutive scores, with the hometown crowd erupting in cheers after a long rally gave LCHS a 20-18 lead. South Pas rallied to tie it, 24-24, before Toland landed two consecutive kills to win the set, 30-28.
“I can’t say enough about Olivia,” head coach Laura Browder said. “I don’t think there was ever a time that she felt defeated, felt in her head, felt overwhelmed by the pressure. She was cool as a cucumber, and it showed on the court.”
The third set was another battle for the lead, but this time LCHS flexed its strength by controlling the set nearly the entire way. SPHS threatened to tie the match, but Toland and junior middle blocker Nikki Hughes had other ideas, tallying back-to-back kills and extending the Spartans’ lead to 14-11. SPHS took control with a 24-22 lead until consecutive kills by Toland, a block by Sears and a final kill from Hughes gave LCHS a 26-24 set victory.
In the fourth set, South Pasadena held a 20-16 advantage. But the Spartans never quit and tied the match at 21 apiece with an ace by Hughes, a kill by Clark, and a block by Toland and freshman middle blocker Katie McGuinness. However, SPHS scored four consecutive points to force a fifth set.
LCHS assistant coach Carlos Medina was determined to energize the crowd for the final set. La Cañada was in do-or-die mode, starting the set with five consecutive scores thanks to excellent defense by Sears and a couple of SPHS errors. South Pasadena threatened by closing the gap, but Toland sent the Spartans home happy with consecutive kills for a 15-10 win.
“I’m just proud of my kids,” Browder said. “We come into practice every day committed to be the best version of ourselves. We take no points off, no sets off, no moments off, and that culture has really started to grow.”
Behind Toland’s career night, several LCHS players also enjoyed outstanding performances. Senior Allie Landa’s ball-handling was terrific as she logged a team-high 47 assists and 23 digs. Sophomore Haley Clark had a solid match with 12 kills, one ace, two total blocks and 12 digs. Nussbaum also had a stellar performance, with 22 digs, four assists, three aces and one kill. Sophomore Tatum Purdy added three assists and two digs, and freshman Taylor Dobbs recorded two digs.