Coming off of the program’s best season ever, the San Dieguito Academy’s girls volleyball team was expected to see a drop-off in 2016 after the loss of a several key seniors.
Mustang coach David Savage, however, knew he still had something special and his team’s brilliant start to the season has proved him correct. Savage’s belief in his squad’s potential is exactly why he wanted SDA to play in matches like it did Sept. 27 — a 25-17, 25-13, 25-13 loss to local rival and powerhouse La Costa Canyon.
The Mavericks, playing their home opener in front of a boisterous crowd of nearly 300 fans, improved to 8-4 and looked like a squad capable of a deep postseason run. The Mustangs, despite the loss, are still 14-4 on the season following the Avocado West League opener for both teams.
“They are the best team we’ve played so far and I actually think LCC is the best it’s been in a long time,” said Savage, in his second year at the SDA helm. “We are growing and improving … and I want to play the best teams because I want to be better for the end of the year to make a strong run in (the CIF San Diego Section playoffs).
“I know that we are a better team than we played (against LCC).”
Last year, the Mustangs went 25-8 overall and reached the section quarterfinals in the Open Division. They started 2016 with a strong run in the Las Vegas Invitational, making it to the Gold Division semifinals.
Coming off of a Division I section title last year, LCC’s 2016 squad also played an early-season tourney in Vegas, the prestigious Durango Fall Classic. Those matches and other early outings had the Mavericks humming in their home opener.
The two teams felt each other out through the first 10 points (it was tied 5-5) before LCC began to pull away, eventually taking a 22-11 lead and finishing off the opening game when senior co-captain Bronte Zlomek hammered down one of her four kills on the night. Zlomek leads the Mavs with 75 kills so far this season.
“We were playing the game how we are supposed to, which came from (the girls) putting in a lot of work over the last week (of practice),” said LCC coach Said Souikane. “When we do a really good job in our system, we make great decisions in setting and in hitting.
“The girls you could see were excited (for their first home match of the season). They wanted to make everyone proud, and they did.”
Outstanding 6-foot-3 Maverick sophomore Morgan Lewis got some of the biggest cheers of the night after her two big blocks and five key kills, while junior Anna Visser had a pair of impressive serving runs, including an eight-point spurt that helped clinch the victory in the third game. That decisive run featured a pair of powerful spikes by Michelle Polechonski and was capped by a Visser ace that made it 23-8.
However, the two biggest stars of the night for LCC were senior Jamie McQuarrie and sophomore Maddie Wilmot. Playing in her first match with the varsity squad, the former Mavericks JV standout Wilmont got a huge ovation from the crowd and made her presence felt right away, including a serving run of seven straight points in the third set.
McQuarrie paced the hosts with 14 kills, giving her 70 for the season.
“Our communication and passing got better throughout the game,” McQuarrie said. “We all had some nerves in our first home game, but then we settled in and got back in our rhythm.
“We’ve been working hard in practice and I think it shows on the court.”
Bright spots for SDA included some of the usual suspects, as junior outside hitter Sarah Colla, the 2015 Avocado East League MVP, put down six kills to improve to 192 for the season and senior libero Kiani Kerstetter, who is off to play at Stony Brook next season, had 11 digs, giving her 227 on the year.
Colla added three blocks and additional Mustang contributions came from senior Kiahna Holmen, whose six kills pushed her second-best team total to 103, and 6-2 sophomore middle Chloe Pejouan, who led SDA with six blocks.
“Chloe Pejouan, our middle, was playing great,” Savage said. “She was really connecting in the middle especially in the first two sets. She is a very hard worker and with her size and improvement so far this season, the sky is the limit.”
Following the Sept. 29 league match at Sage Creek, and the Scripps Ranch Tournament Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, the Mustangs will see another elite team when Torrey Pines visits SDA on Oct. 4 (4:45 p.m.).
La Costa Canyon, meanwhile, played at Canyon Crest on Sept. 29 and heads next to Carlsbad for a 4:45 p.m. Avocado West League matchup on Oct. 4.