It would be an understatement to say the St. Anthony girls’ volleyball team made an abrupt turnaround after the first set of their CIF Southern Section Division 5 quarterfinal at home on Wednesday night.
Oak Hills dominated in a 25-13 first set victory, but the Saints flipped the script to finish off the visiting Bulldogs 25-11, 25-10, 25-22.
St. Anthony (22-10) is going back to its second CIF-SS semifinal in the last three years after winning the Division 4 title in 2016. The Saints host Ontario Christian at 6 p.m. on Saturday. It is the first time in almost 30 years that St. Anthony girls’ volleyball will host a semifinal.
“After the first set I just reminded them of the preparation, and that they’ve seen teams like this,” St. Anthony coach Alicia Lemau’u said. “It may be a little stronger and powerful, but somehow the kids stuck with the game plan and it prevailed.”
St. Anthony’s Sam Ashworth, Gabby McPherson and Camille Harvey all had a team-high nine kills while setter Isabella Bareford finished with 45 assists, 10 digs and four kills. Ashworth also had five service aces, and Antonia Bareford had a team-high 13 digs.
“I’ve been waiting, it’s about time,” Lemau’u said of her teams quality of play. “It took a team like Oak Hills for us to play that high. I think the energy and the volume was amazing from Oak Hills. They’re from Hesperia, coming from two hours away, hats off to them.”
The Bulldogs (25-7) used their big front line to loudly take an early lead in the first set. Senior Madison Gardner led the way for the visitors with a match-high 13 kills, and they took the first set with ease.
St. Anthony attacked the middle to spread out the Oak Hills defense, and it worked thanks to Ashworth and company. The sophomore had four blocks, and a pair of service aces in the set to help the Saints build a 10-point lead.
“Sam Ashworth has been an unsung hero on this team,” Lemau’u said. “I don’t talk about her enough, honestly. She’s one of the best teammates, and just comes up in clutch moments for a sophomore.”
In the third set, Bareford used the attention on Ashworth in the middle to feed outside hitters like Jaena Bell, who had seven kills, and Tiare Jennings, who had six kills and 11 digs. The Saints led 19-3 in the set.
“We practiced a lot harder while trying to work on new things,” Ashworth said. “We were going extra hard because they were bigger than us. I felt really comfortable (after the first set) because I knew we could play like that, we just hadn’t done it before. It was really exciting and fun to play like that.”
St. Anthony junior Camille Harvey chipped in five of her nine kills in the fourth set, and although Oak Hills put up a fight late, the Saints were always in control.
“They’re on a good vibe right now,” Lamau’u said of her team. “Whatever they’re doing that shouldn’t stop it. It’s working.”
St. Anthony has reached six quarterfinals in the last seven years under Lamau’u.