The Lakewood girls’ volleyball team rode down to Vista Murrieta with a 20-match winning streak, having lost only one set over that run. But the Lancers’ team, their win streak, and their state No. 4 ranking weren’t enough to overcome the host Broncos and star player Claire Little, an All-American junior committed to BYU.
Lakewood had their moments, but came up short on the road, 25-23, 25-17, 21-25, 25-15, in a CIF-SS Division 1 quarterfinal.
Little was a star for the Broncos, with 25 kills, three blocks, and an ace; the rest of the Vista team totaled 27 kills.
“She can change the whole outcome of a game simply by her presence,” said Vista Murrieta coach Ed Taitano. “She’s a pure six rotation outside–you can see her sliding on the floor with the libero digging a ball. Sometimes I can’t tell she’s six-three, because she’s eating up floor left and right. But she’s also a gamer, and her attitude is ‘I’m trying to get the team to play on another level.’”
It was a frustrating loss for Lakewood. The Lancers had a 10-day pause due to a COVID-19 positive test late in the season, and it took them out of the Redondo Tournament as well as out of a challenging nonleague match against Village Christian. As a result, it had been almost two months since the Lancers had been down in a match.
“It didn’t help,” said Lakewood coach Mike Wadley. “That part of the schedule where we’re competing and getting sharp for the playoffs, we weren’t able to do it. So it got in our heads a little bit being down 1-0, it got us outside of our comfort zone.”
The first set hung in the balance after a half hour of slugging between the Lancers team on one side and Little on the other. She had seven of her team’s 13 kills in the first frame, with the rest of the Broncos contributing six kills and also six hitting errors. Lancers setter Fatima Hall spread the ball around, and Lakewood led 19-17 after a long service run from Shayna Martinez. But the Broncos tied it at 20, and took a 23-21 lead. An ace from Samarah DaCoud tied it at 23, but a service error and a kill from Little gave it to Vista Murrieta.
They won the second set more easily as Lakewood’s outsides struggled to locate hits, sometimes even against open net. Hall set middle blockers Keke Hall and Jade Epps effectively, but the Lancers got just three kills in the set from their pin hitters.
Trailing 2-0, Lakewood rebounded impressively in set three. After Lakewood fell behind 15-12, Yvonne Barnes provided a spark off the bench and a long service run from Lala Hall put the Lancers up 17-15. They were able to hold onto the lead thanks to Hall working the middle, and a big block from Laura Williams and Epps.
But in the fourth, Lakewood ran out of steam. Trailing 17-15, Lakewood didn’t have the gas to stop an 8-0 run from the Broncos to finish the match.
Lakewood was led by Keke Hall, who had 13 kills, and DaCoud, who had 11 kills. Epps had six kills and six blocks, while Williams had eight kills and five blocks. Fatima Hall had 34 assists, and libero Courtni Youngblood did an impressive job handling hard shots from Little after the first set; she finished with 22 digs.
Lakewood will await the release of the CIF State brackets in two weeks, to see if they’re in the Open Division or Division 1. Vista Murrieta will travel to Mater Dei Saturday for the Division 1 semifinals.