Tonight, St. Anthony girls’ volleyball is making its sixth CIF Southern Section quarterfinal appearance in the last seven years under coach Alicia Lemau’u. First serve of the Division 5 playoff game against visiting Oak Hills is scheduled for 6 p.m. in Errion Gym.
“It’s been an awesome vibe the last week and a half,” Lemau’u said of her young team during postseason practice. “They’ve always been a loose fun team. I’m a tough, structured coach, but they know how to be loose in between drills, and they keep each other in check. There’s been a lot more high-fives lately.”
“Playing more tough teams in Division 3 and Division 2 this season has really prepared us for CIF and the tough games where you have to grind,” St. Anthony setter Isabella Bareford said. “You have to be super intense and have the will to win. That Cerritos game is the epitome of what this team has been able to do this year. That’s grinding.”
Bareford was the freshman setter two years ago when the Saints won their historic Division 4 championship, but that team was full of experienced seniors. This year, St. Anthony only has three seniors.
“We all have really good club experience,” Bareford said. “These girls work really hard too, and that makes my job easy. It’s about staying focused. If we played the way we played on Saturday we can beat anybody. I think we can go all the way.”
Oak Hills High of Hesperia opened in 2009, and has never reached the quarterfinal round before this year. The Bulldogs (25-6) are in the midst of their third consecutive 20-win season, but are coming off of back-to-back second round losses in Division 2.
The Bulldogs were the undefeated champions of the Mojave League thanks to a strong defense. Seniors Madelyn Highsmith and Madison Gardner both have more than 100 total blocks this season, according to MaxPreps. Senior Elizabeth Uelese has a team-high 314 kills with a .391 hitting percentage. Lemau’u said Oak Hills will be the tallest teams St. Anthony has played in the postseason.
“It seems like it’s been the same story where they have a lot of experienced seniors, and we only have three,” Lemau’u said. “It will be a good battle all around on both sides of the net.”
Bareford said coach Lemau’u will undoubtedly have the Saints ready.
“She’s an awesome coach and an awesome person,” Bareford said. “She brings so much heart and intensity to the game. She genuinely cares about each and every one of us. Not just who we are on the court, but who we are as people. She’s the ideal person to learn from, not just as a volleyball player but as a person.”
Come back tonight for our LIVE score updates from St. Anthony and the Long Beach Poly Jackrabbits vs. Mater Dei.