The long road from Long Beach to Aliso Viejo and back looked like one big silver lining on Thursday evening for the Long Beach Poly girls’ volleyball team. The Jackrabbits were eliminated from the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs, falling in their opening match to host Aliso Niguel, 25-20, 22-25, 25-19, 25-23.
But the news wasn’t all bad for the Jackrabbits. As one of the 12 teams in the Division 1 playoffs, they’ve already clinched a berth in the State playoffs. The loss on Thursday almost certainly means that they’ll be placed in Division 1 in State, instead of the murderer’s row of the Open Division they were in last year.
“It’s just let it sting a little, and then we’ll get back to work,” said Poly coach Leland McGrath. “I actually thought this was one of our better-played matches, they’re a really talented team.”
McGrath’s challenge will be keeping his team active for two and a half weeks without burning them out while awaiting the CIF State bracket release on November 10.
The match was played at a high level, with several Pac-12 caliber athletes on the floor. The Wolverines were led by Jessica and Katelyn Smith, twin sisters who are committed to UCLA and USC, respectively. The duo had 75% of Aliso’s kills, and Poly struggled to stop their combination of hard swings and off-speed attempts.
The Jackrabbits got a monster match out of their young stars. Adonia Faumuina had 14 kills, 22 assists, and 12 digs in the match, while Rylie McGinest had eight kills on .600 hitting. Aniah Cutler had eight kills and Elle Requejo had seven kills.
Nicaylah Iamaleava had a great match in the back row with a team-high 13 digs.
The Wolverines took the first set, then Poly came roaring back in the second, leading 15-8 midway through, and surviving a late push by Aliso. The third set saw the home side win again, then Poly looked like they’d force a fifth for most of the fourth set. The Jackrabbits led 18-15 and 23-21, but Aliso Niguel closed on a 4-0 run to take the match.