It has been a season in girls’ volleyball defined by twists and turns. By upstarts upstaging the untouchables. By maddening matches and courageous comebacks.
And by that token, after years of deliberation as to a new format, part of the motivation for moving to a pool-play system for the Division 1 playoffs was the parity in the section, per CIF assistant commissioner Mike Middlebrook.
“The ability of those eight schools to beat each other on any given day is really great,” Middlebrook said last month.
The first look at a new system Wednesday was not one of those days.
Mira Costa, Marymount, Sierra Canyon and Mater Dei — seeds one through four, split between Pool A and Pool B — largely beat up on lower-seeded teams on the first day of Division 1 playoffs. Palos Verdes, the eighth seed, was the only team to take a set, losing in four to Mater Dei.
So has this season of parity just been an anomaly all along?
“If these seedings hold, and the top seeds continue to win in dominating fashion, it’s going to be safe to say there was a group of us at the top,” Sierra Canyon coach Stefanie Wigfall said.
Newport Harbor rode a late-season surge to a sixth seed, coming off sweeps of seventh-seeded Huntington Beach, but was swept aside by Sierra Canyon 25-19, 25-9, 25-12. Marymount set down Huntington Beach 25-21, 25-22, 25-17, and top-seeded Mira Costa sent Lakewood home in another sweep, 25-22, 25-22, 25-16.
Marymount coach Cari Klein and Mira Costa coach Cam Green agreed there wasn’t much of a change in mentality or overall atmosphere in the debut of the new format. Green explained, in fact, that the Mustangs were still mentally viewing it as a bracket, picturing their next match as a quarterfinal and the last match in the pool as the semifinal.
But Wigfall admitted the lack of a one-and-done elimination made the day feel slightly more relaxed.
“It feels — I’ll say it’s a slower burn,” she said.
— Senior Olivia Babcock, a Pittsburgh commit, deservedly earns the majority of attention for Sierra Canyon, but Wigfall said outside hitter Jaida Sione has been the team’s most consistent offensive player. Sione, a Cornell commit, started her career as a Trailblazer before transferring to Flower Mound (Texas) as a junior, then coming back to Sierra Canyon for her senior year.
“Gift that kind of fell back into our laps,” Wigfall said.
She was extra special against Newport Harbor, as the coaching staff has urged her to be more aggressive. If that holds, teams won’t be able to focus as much on Babcock as pool play continues.
— Outside hitter Chloe Hynes and middle Bryn Shankle both sprained their ankles in Mira Costa’s win, an ugly mark on an otherwise sparkling night. But the Mustangs are deep, and when they went down, senior Erin Inskeep stepped up. The numbers didn’t pop off the page, with five kills and two blocks, but she has earned Green’s trust.
Inskeep is one of the top beach volleyball players in the nation, winning an under-18 AAU national championship over the summer.
“She’s played in some really big, high-pressure matches,” Green said. “She’s not afraid of the moment.”
Tuesday brings the second day of pool play in Division 1. Mira Costa (home) will take on Palos Verdes, Mater Dei (home) will play Lakewood, Sierra Canyon (home) will face Huntington Beach and Marymount (home) goes against Newport Harbor.