Story by: Zoe Chen
Photo by: Shin-Hye (Rachel) Choi
Girls’ volleyball played the Oaks Christian Lions in their second round of CIF playoffs, an away game on Saturday, Oct. 21. The Tigers played fiercely but ultimately fell to the Lions, closing their 2023–24 season. The Lions were the one of two teams to be given a bye in the Southern Section playoffs.
The first set played out to be close, with both teams getting a feel for the other’s strengths and weaknesses. However, the Lions’ score always seemed to lead over the Tigers’, ultimately allowing the Lions to take the set.
A serve by senior setter Kendall Taylor kicked off the match, and a block by senior opposite hitter Ingrid Zahn gained the Tigers the first point. However, the Lions reciprocated with their own strategic blocks, often sending the ball down on uncovered areas of the Tigers’ court. A back-and-forth rhythm began, one team slamming an attack and the other diving for a save before launching their own kill.
The teams began getting to know each others’ playing habits, and each team soon opted for the element of surprise. At 11-13, senior outside hitter Helena Foord reached over the net for a kill from a Lion set, surprising the Lions and gaining the Tigers a point.
The Lions then adopted a strategy of surprise outside attacks, leaving the Tigers unsure of whether they should go after or avoid the ball. However, Oaks Christian’s kills were well controlled and the majority landed deceptively in, advancing the Lions’ point advantage over the Tigers. Unable to recover the lead, a final Lion kill onto the Tigers’ open middle court awarded the set to the Lions, 17-25.
The buzzer marking the beginning of the second set went off, and the Tigers’ unpreparedness after their kills was quickly taken advantage of by the Lions. Lion blocks often, and with force, blocked Tiger kills, catching the Tigers off guard. However, Oaks Christian sets were often close enough to the net that the Tigers could reach over and land a kill, keeping the scores close at 11-13.
A quick set from Taylor to sophomore middle blocker Senya Dorny startled the Lions, gaining the Tigers a well-earned point. Two kills by Foord gave the Tigers a boost of energy, bringing the score to 15-17, but after yet another Lion kill landed in the Tigers’ outside court, a Tiger timeout was called.
Oaks Christian used South Pasadena’s timeout as a boost to their own momentum, returning to the court to keep up more Tiger blocks and kills than before. The Lions’ own more aggressive kills proved to be hard for the Tigers to keep up, and while junior libero Ava Conti was able to get some digs in, the Lions continued coming just short of a win 20-24. The set was then taken by the Lions, 22-25, after a Tiger service error.
The Lions began using quick sets and fast kills in the third set, surprising the Tigers. The strategy served its purpose well, and each rally put the Tigers further and further behind.
A pivotal kill by Garner proved to be just what the Tigers needed, boosting their confidence and ultimately allowing them to win the set. Garner’s kill was followed by two landing kills executed by Foord and Zahn, bringing the score to 15-19. Senior middle blocker Maggie Hunter reached over the net to perform a surprise kill, and the scores were tied at 19-19.
South Pasadena finally pulled ahead when a kill by Zahn was bumped out by the Oaks Christian blockers. With a confident mindset, two final aces by senior defense specialist Mia Ramos concluded the set 25-20 in the Tigers’ favor, provoking a roaring celebration from the team.
South Pasadena opted for a strategy focused on kills during the first half of the fourth set, while Oaks Christian relied on their own blocking. Lion blockers would typically manage to make contact with the ball after Tiger kills, and gaining points became a matter of whether or not the Lion blocks were successful — about 50 percent of the time. This led to frequent ties, occurring at 2-2, 8-8, and 10-10.
As both teams tied again at 13-13, a realization dawned that the current strategies were not working as desired. Soon after, the Tigers called a timeout.
The rallies following the timeout began to turn the set in favor of the Lions. Tiger kills were still not high enough to pass over the Lion blockers, but blocks from the Lions more often landed in-bounds on Tiger court, bringing the score to 15-20.
A turning point came when Foord jumped for a kill and successfully hit the ball over the Lion blockers. Another successful kill by Garner boosted the Tigers’ energy, and South Pasadena slowly but steadily caught up to the Lions’ leading score.
An ace by Foord brought the score to 20-21, worrying Oaks Christian enough to call a timeout. A strong kill by Zahn over the Lion blockers followed by an ace from Taylor brought the score to 23-24, leaving all watchers in suspense of what the final fate of the set would be.
A last timeout by the Lions was called, but upon the teams’ return to the court, a flying Lion kill sailed over the Tiger blockers and hit the polished wood of the Tigers’ court. The Lions’ score bounced to 23-25 and the second round of playoffs went to the Lions.
“[W]e stepped on the court without thinking it [would be] our last match[,]” Head Coach Ivy Chew stated. “Unfortunately the ending result did not go the way we wanted… Regardless of what the ending results [were,] these girls are still walking away this season as winners. Nothing will beat the memories and friendship/sisterhood that these girls [have] gain[ed] from the past season[.]”
This match concluded the Tigers’ volleyball season. Their season has now ended with a 20-7 overall record, a first place title shared with La Cañada in the Rio Hondo League, a win in the first round of CIF playoffs, and a loss in the second.