La Costa Canyon senior Sophia Tulino recently recited a series of goals that she and the team had for the 2019 season. Beyond the requisite Avocado West League, CIF and State Championships, she added a simpler, far more personal aspiration—beating Torrey Pines.
Since Tulino has been a Maverick, the slate showed zero wins in seven encounters with Torrey Pines, three of which were 3-2 decisions and two of those were contests where LCC had the lead, needing only one set to prevail.
Well, Tulino got her wish Friday night, Sept. 13, but it was unlikely that even she envisioned the manner in which it unfolded. The Mavericks, a mere 10-7 on the year and sitting at No. 9 in the latest San Diego poll, went toe-to-toe with the visiting No. 1-ranked and undefeated (12-0) Falcons, repeatedly making big plays and winning long rallies on the way to a 3-0 (25-21, 27-25, 28-26) decision. Despite the tight scores and the fact that she downplayed the result just a bit, it was an outcome Coach Rachel Morris’s club richly deserved.
“We got really lucky in that we had a full week to prepare because this was our only match,” said Morris, now in her second season at the LCC helm. “The first two days of the week we focused on us, what we had to improve, and the last two days we got to develop a game plan.
“We emphasized making this game just like any other and not going out and changing everything up because it was Torrey Pines. We talked about composure and moving forward no matter what happened. I think our girls did a great job of implementing that.”
The Mavericks may have swept the Falcons in three straight sets but on the night scored just eight more points. In a clash that contained enough momentum and lead swings to keep fans of both teams on the edge of their seats, it was the winning side that time-after-time came through in the biggest moments, although it was Coach Brennan Dean’s veteran unit boasted an all-senior starting lineup.
“We won this match because of the way we set our minds,” explained Tulino, who finished with 10 kills, six digs and an ace. “Every point, every set there was no letdown. That’s why we came out with our best volleyball.”
La Costa Canyon’s tactics worked favorably. They served tough, keeping Torrey Pines out of system and off balance offensively. Hitting a robust .290 on the season, the Falcons had just a .165 hitting percentage in this one (compared to .237 for LCC). Morris’s front line set up a consistently solid block and the team played good defense around it. Senior Cami Cox registered 11 kills to lead the home team while seniors Maya Satchell and Megan Kraft had 13 and 12 respectively for TP.
LCC took charge from the first serve but after leading early in game one, saw Torrey fight back to take its first lead at 10-9. The hosts rebounded and seemed to have control after an ace by Tulino put them up 16-12. Minutes later, however, a double block by Satchell and Asia Parks deadlocked it at 17. It was still tied at 19 apiece when a stuff block by Tulino initiated a run that put LCC ahead, 24-20, and a TP service error closed it out at 25-21.
The second set was even tighter and probably the most pivotal of the match. At the midway point, LCC surged to a five-point advantage but with their backs against the wall, Torrey dug in. A well-timed tip by Falcon senior Delaynie Maple knotted things at 15-15. The 5-11 Maple tooled the Maverick block on the next play to give Torrey the lead, a subsequent LCC ballhandling error and a Maple roll shot made it 18-15 and suddenly the home team was on the ropes. They responded to even matters at 19. It stayed square to 21-21 when LCC pulled up by two at 23-21. The Falcons tallied three straight to reach set point at 24-23 but La Costa claimed four of the next five points to make it a two-set to none margin.
The younger Mavericks were giddy on the sidelines after clinching set two but Tulino made sure they were aware there was plenty more volleyball to be played. “There was too much celebrating,” said Tulino. “I told them that we’ve been here before, this team is not going to quit and had come back before to defeat us in this same scenario. We had to keep fighting, not think about the end result, but just concentrate on the next point.”
The Mavs took those thoughts to heart, scoring eight of the first 11 points in the third set but even though not at its best, Torrey Pines once again found a way to bounce back. They chipped away and finally drew even at 17-all. A Maple kill lifted the Falcons to plus-2 at 20-18 but a pair of unforced errors allowed LCC to level it again at 20. La Costa registered three points in-a-row and had three match points at 24-21. Incredibly, Torrey again found another gear and caught the Mavs at 24-all. With both sides at 25, Satchell bombed an ace to give TP set point. The last of Cox’s 11 kills, a cross court dart, pulled LCC into a 26-26 stalemate. With the set on the line, 6-2 sophomore Mackenzie Piester, a first-year varsity member, made perhaps the biggest play of the night, roofing a Falcon attack to again give LCC match point. Moments later, Maple uncharacteristically put the ball off the antenna and the verdict was in.
Senior setter Mia Schafer, who combined with sophomore Emily Tulino, to dish out 35 assists, was among the ecstatic mix of players, coaches and fans milling around the floor following the final point.
After talking animatedly about her team’s confidence, chemistry and balance, she was asked what her team did well.
“We didn’t let the ball touch the ground,” Schafer said with a smile. “Every ball was up. We went after everything. We never played defensively—everything was on the offense.
“We attacked, had big swings, big plays and a lot of good energy, especially from our bench.”
Dean felt the outcome was the result of what happened on both sides of the net. “They played exceptionally and we played pretty flat,” said Dean, whose team had lost only two sets all season before Friday. “I didn’t do a very good job making adjustments so that’s in the mix too.
“There were a ton of positives we can take from the match. The fact that we’re going to deal with adversity early in the season is one. It’s definitely going to make us work harder this week and I’m looking forward to seeing how we respond.”
The final words belonged to Morris and Sophia Tulino. “Our girls talked in the beginning of the year about wanting respect from the volleyball community,” said Morris. “I told them No. 1, if you want that respect you have to earn it and No. 2, you have to give it to yourselves.
“It’s awesome for them, more than anything, to realize that they do belong, they are one of the top teams in the county and can hang with anyone. But there’s a ton of season left to play—they can revel in it a little bit and then need to move forward and keep going.”
For Tulino, it was the first step in what she hopes will be a season containing many such moments. “It felt really good to show that we could close out a big match like this and that we stayed competitive all the way through,” said Tulino. “Finally beating Torrey Pines—it feels amazing, just like I imagined it would.”
Now 11-7 overall and 1-0 in Avocado West League play, LCC next travels to Westview Wednesday, Sept. 18, before going to Colorado for the Durango Fall Classic. Torrey Pines, 12-1 on the year and 1-1 in league action, will also play at Durango. The two teams will lock horns again in a Sept, 25 rematch at Torrey Pines.