On Wednesday night, the Sacred Heart Cathedral Fightin’ Irish did something only two other volleyball teams had done all season: They won a set against St. Francis.
Granted, the Lancers started the match with some of their top players on the bench, and still went on to win the match in four sets (20-25, 25-10, 25-10, 25-22), but to even win a single set against the top-ranked team in Northern California gave the Irish something to hang their hats on for the ride back from Mountain View.
“It’s growth, and it’s improvement,” head coach Symone Mackiewicz said. “That’s what we’re mainly focusing on, improving from the first round of league play.”
When the Irish hosted St. Francis (25-0, 9-0 West Catholic Athletic League), the No. 19 team in the country according to MaxPreps.com, back on Sept. 20, they never won more than 19 points in a prompt sweep. Wednesday was a completely different story as Sacred Heart Cathedral (11-9, 2-6) raced out to an 8-3 lead and went up 19-11 before Lancer head coach Lake Merchen called on his stars.
“We held our own, even when he started making the subs,” Mackiewicz said. “Earlier on in the season, it would have been a little more shaky for us.”
With Loyola Marymount commit Havannah Hoeft setting for Taylor Williams, Erin Curtis and Faith Crouch, St. Francis did dominate each of the next two sets. The Lancers rolled through Set 2 after getting in an early 3-1 hole and led the third 18-3, winning 42 of 52 points during that span. SHC did push St. Francis to the limit in the fourth set, largely thanks to Lydia Valle-Jhanda, who had missed the first seven matches of the season with a sprained ankle and had been ramping up her playing time over the past month.
“She really amps the girls up,” Mackiewicz said. “We have a lot of quiet girls on this team, so having her out there cheering for them boosts their confidence as well.”
Valle-Jhanda’s kill tied the fourth set at 14 after Hoeft and Williams had won four straight points for the hosts out of a timeout. The Irish had led 13-10 on an ace by Amaia Tapia, who had taken over for Kiana Paredes at the libero position for Set 4.
“She had been sitting on the sideline watching, so she could see things that Kiki wasn’t able to see on the court,” Mackiewicz said of Tapia.
Ultimately, Williams took over the final set, but the defense that SHC showcased throughout the night harkened back to the Central Coast Section (CCS) Open Division Championship squad from the 2019-20 season and some of the other great teams that played under longtime head coach Margi Beima. Paredes and sophomore Livy Tangaan managed to dig every St. Francis spike in the opening set, and after getting knocked around in Sets 2 and 3, Tapia reinforced the back line for a strong defensive finish to the night.
Sarah Caulder, Kate Lau, Rachel Mak and Meghan Williams aided Valle-Jhanda in the opening set to help the Irish become the first Bay Area team to win a set against St. Francis all year and the first team from any region to do so in a standalone match. The other two, San Clemente and Clovis North, both did so at tournaments.
SHC travels to Valley Christian (15-6, 3-5) next Tuesday. The teams first met on Sept. 22, a match the Irish won in five sets.
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]