The injury bug came at an opportune time for the Riordan Crusaders.
Missing three starters is never ideal, but if there was ever an ideal time to be afflicted by injuries up and down the roster, it would be during a stretch with just one game over 11 days.
That game, against a South San Francisco foe that entered the night with just two wins on the season, was far from a masterpiece — service errors and issues with communication were constant — but Riordan (9-8) still dispatched the Warriors in straight sets (25-12, 25-19, 25-21) to reappear on the good side of the .500 mark behind Carol Manu’s game-high 16 kills.
“She wants the ball every time, and she’s learning how to be a smarter hitter,” head coach Jen Curtin said of the sophomore outside hitter. “She’s never played that role before. She’s always been a middle hitter. Now she’s playing six rotations, and it’s pushing her in a way she’s never been pushed before.”
Manu dominated a first set in which the Crusaders jumped out to an early double-digit lead, a set they could have won by as much as 17 or 18 if not for a handful of service errors. The difficulties of playing without Melissa Chiao, libero Analee Ronas and Nataly Neves, the lone senior on the roster, didn’t manifest themselves until the second set.
Without Ronas manning the back line, there were ample opportunities for South San Francisco (2-8) to get on a roll behind Melody Alapati’s powerful serving, and the Warriors jumped out to an 11-6 advantage before Talia Bumanglag finally established some stability as the libero.
“There was confusion where she wanted to make the big moves and wanted to get the ball,” Curtin said of Bumanglag. “I told her, ‘no second-guessing. You have the libero jersey, you have the green light.’”
Bumanglag, Scarlett Borges and Bea Dimayuga filled the holes in the starting lineup left by the three injuries, and helped Riordan rally to a 25-19 win in Set 2. An early 7-2 lead in the third set disintegrated after more communication errors beset Curtin’s side, but the Crusaders took five of the final six points to win 25-21 and finish the match in just over an hour as Borges racked up seven of Riordan’s 14 aces.
“Scarlett’s a great kid to have on your team,” Curtin said. “She’s a go-getter, and whatever you ask of her, she’ll do. She’s been really working on the discipline of transitioning in the front row so that she can see what’s in front of her and make smart decisions.”
As much as Borges, Bumanlag and Dimayuga did to help compensate for injuries, it’ll be extremely difficult for the Crusaders to find similar success in their next two matches if they enter them with just eight available players, as they did on Monday. They visit University (10-2) next Tuesday and travel to Sacred Heart Cathedral (6-5) next Friday night.
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]