A young Polytechnic varsity girls’ volleyball team made a surprising run in the postseason, knocking down the No. 2 and 3 seeds on its way to the program’s first CIF Southern Section championship match in seven years.
The Panthers fought toe-to-toe with No. 1-seeded Quartz Hill of Lancaster, showing the host squad how it reached the title match, but a hardened Rebels squad came through with big plays to defeat Poly in three sets, 30-28, 25-23, 25-16, last Saturday.
“They fought until the last ball dropped,” said first-year Poly head coach Katrina Damasco. “There was a time where there was a bit of a [down time], but they were able to pick it back up.”
Poly (19-6 overall record) battled in the first two sets and came close to stealing a win over Quartz Hill (36-6 overall). However, the Rebels, who lost in the CIF-SS semifinals the past four seasons, had seniors make key blocks and kills down the stretch to give them an edge and played strong on defense to prevent the Panthers from going on a big run.
“That’s the way we do it,” said Quartz Hill head coach David Gutierrez. “We distribute the ball a lot like Pasadena Poly. It’s important to move the ball around. My setters are very good at delivering from pin to pin. We have two senior setters that do a lot with the ball, and we expected Poly to do the same. Winning that first set was a huge confidence booster, and we realized we had to keep grinding away. I don’t think, at any point, it was ever easy for us.”
Gutierrez relied on nine seniors to get over the hump and bring home the program’s first CIF title. Amaya Smith led the squad with nine kills and Melody Paige added seven.
“We have nine seniors on the wall over there, and we used a lot of them tonight,” Gutierrez said. “Having that maturity makes all the difference.”
With only one senior on the roster, Poly showed resiliency and character in continuing to fight following a grueling first-set loss. However, a second consecutive defeat seemed to have deflated the Panthers, allowing the Rebels to make several big runs in the third game to complete the sweep.
“It would take a lot out of anyone emotionally, especially after that first set” Damasco said. “Fighting back and ending up dropping it takes a lot. The circumstances and environment also played a huge part of it. These girls, it’s tough for them and it’s tough for anybody who would be in the same situation.”
Four other teams were in a situation similar to Poly’s. Of the nine CIF-SS championships matches, only four were played at Cerritos College in Norwalk, which was the neutral site used for last year’s finals. The Poly-Quartz Hill contest was the highest division match to be played at a team’s home site.
“We’re on their home crowd, on their home court, and it’s a tough environment,” Damasco said. “The girls, given the circumstances, did the best they could, and I do honestly feel that way.”
“We love our crowd,” Gutierrez said. “They do an excellent job. They were super loud and positive and even decorated [the gym] for us.”
Ella Mao and Kate Salembier led Poly with nine kills each, and Zoey Mao added 30 assists, four aces and three kills. Alex Pappachan had seven kills, Deborah Hong recorded four aces and five digs, Lauren Kidman had 26 assists and Kayla Chu contributed two kills.
The Panthers’ remarkable season didn’t end in the CIF-SS finals as they traveled to Bakersfield to take on Garces Memorial in a CIF State Division 2 first-round playoff match on Tuesday.
“We still have state, and we’re looking forward to it,” Damasco said. “I’d like to see the girls rebound from this loss.”
Damasco also hopes the girls feel the same pride she does in what they accomplished in the postseason.
“I told them that they should be proud,” she said. “Two schools made it to the finals. We were one of those two schools. Their entire student body trumps our entire school. The sting of defeat hurts more right now than understanding the pride and knowing how far we’ve come. It will settle in. Once the hurt goes away, they’ll understand that we made it the finals and it’s been awhile.”