Norco – In many ways, the Big VIII League girls’ volleyball game Monday night between Santiago and Norco was simplistic. Santiago had more players who were able to hit the ball on the ground.
Santiago finished the match with 41 kills—almost twice as many as Norco—and translated into a comfortable 25-15, 25-19, 25-16 win for the Sharks in the Big VIII League opener for both schools.
Santiago’s offensive numbers were fairly balanced. Freshmen Fallyn Blotzer and Maylynn Mitchell had 12 and 10 kills, respectively, and senior Jayla Shanks finished with eight kills. Santiago (6-3) also had a production of psychics, with both senior Bella Marvin and junior Brock Alexander taking nine kills.
“It’s been a while since we’ve had so many options. We even have some good hitters who can leave the bench and get the job done,” said Santiago coach Courtney Krueger. “There are times when I don’t even know who will get the sets. And if it’s hard for me, you can imagine how hard the defenses are.”
Santiago jumped to a 9-1 lead in the first set behind Pulitzer’s aces and first officer Maddie Castillo, and that tough serve became another story on Monday, as the Sharks hit nine aces in the match and forced Norco down (12-4). to play out of order. Blutzer scored three aces to lead Santiago.
“Passing and serving have been our greatest strengths this year, and we struggled in both areas tonight,” Norco coach Jake Celestin said. “We passed around 2.2 (from 3), and it was closer to 1.2 today. We learned a few things from this match. We have to serve harder and be more efficient with our passes.”
Mitchell had six kills in the first set, and Marvin capped the frame with her second kill of the match.
“It was very important to get into their gym and have momentum on our side right from the start,” Krueger said.
Santiago snatched the early lead in the second set and won 16-10. Norco went on to round 4-0 to cut the lead, with two points going to knockout Taylor Underwood. Santiago responded and closed the second set with a 6-3 score that culminated in a kill by Pulitzer.
Norco erased an early deficit during the third set, to collect 10-2 to lead 14-10. Riley Hernandez and Jenny Carranza had an ace to give the Cougars their biggest lead in the match.
“There were a few times in the game we had (Santiago) swinging over the edge, but we couldn’t push them any further,” Celestin said. “We kept dropping ourselves down the hill, which was frustrating.”
And that’s what happened late in the third set, as Santiago led 15-2 to complete the sweep. Blotzer had four kills in that crucial round and also combined with Alexander into a pair of object blocks.
Two seasons ago, Norco broke Santiago’s 77-game winning streak in the Big VIII League, beating the Sharks for a second time on his way to winning the league championship.
“We were up and ready for this match,” said Shanks, one of the team captains. “With what happened for two years, it was really great to come out here and get that win. We played really well as a team tonight.”
Santiago had a different kill boss in each of the three groups on Monday night.
“No matter who I’m going to do, I never have to worry,” said Castillo, who finished with 33 assists.
Norco Libero’s Caitlyn Lopez put in another solid performance, extending a number of points with some massive excavations. Freshman Demi and Jedi had six kills to lead Norco, and Underwood added five kills.