Sacred Heart Prep girls reach state volleyball final

Sacred Heart Prep beat Carlmont in five sets to reach the state finals on Saturday. The Gators meet Sierra Canyon. Photo courtesy of Angela Bartlett.

The Sacred Heart Prep girls volleyball team gave up some of their Thanksgiving celebration on Thursday, and as a result they got to savor something even better than turkey.

"We've made tremendous leaps and bounds over the past three weeks," said Gators coach Allison Magner, whose team upset Carlmont, 25-16, 25-20, 19-25, 14-25, 17-15, for the Division II NorCal title on Saturday.

"After we beat Notre Dame-Belmont (in the semifinals on Tuesday), the girls came to me and said 'Coach, we want to practice on Thanksgiving,' " Magner said. "And so we did: in the gym at 7 a.m., ready to go.

"That says what you need to know about them," Magner said. "I've been coaching for 17 years, and I've never seen a group who was more willing to play and sacrifice for each other."

The Gators won this one in loony, bizarre fashion, winning the first two games 25-16 and 25-20 before dropping the next two 25-19, 25-14.

Then the fifth and deciding game (to 15 -- and you have to win by 2) went overtime before senior Cate Desler, fittingly, ended it with a kill to the middle of the floor for the 17-15 triumph.

That came after a serve by teammate Haley Martella, who led her team with four aces.

"I was just thinking 'Get it over and in' " said Martella, referring to the final serve. "We do a lot of pressure serving in practice so I was prepared for the moment."

But Martella was less able to explain the bizarre shifts in momentum that left her team looking like world-beaters in the first two games, and Carlmont taking over that role in the second two.

"I don't know," she said when asked that question. "I guess fatigue had something to do with it. But there comes a time that you remember that you're playing for your teammates, and we didn't want to go home."

Indeed, Sacred Heart took a 4-0 lead in the fifth game, although Carlmont quickly caught up and eventually led, 11-8. But the Gators then went on a 5-0 run, and never trailed again. An ace by Celia Charlton and a solid return by Martella were key features in the rally.

SHP junior Ally Polverati, who had two key blocks for points and four kills, may have explained the comeback best:

"We played some scrappy D."

SHP plays SoCal champ Sierra Canyon (37-7), which needed five sets to beat La Salle. The Trailblazers have won eight straight and 20 of their past 21.

SH Prep and Sierra Canyon meet at 4 p.m. Saturday at Santiago Canyon College in Orange.

(Campus Map)

The teams have no common opponents, but Sierra Canyon lost to Mitty and beat Sacred Heart Cathedral.

The Gators (29-8) have only lost to four teams all year: Menlo School, Notre Dame-Belmont, Carlmont and Palo Alto. That's a total of two CCS Open Division teams, the CCS Division I champion, and the CCS Division II champ.

(Saturday ticket information)

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