Long Beach Poly Volleyball Wilson

Volleyball: Long Beach Poly Beats Wilson, Takes Over First Place

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The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly is sponsored by Bryson Financial.

The562’s coverage of Long Beach Wilson Athletics is sponsored by Joel Bitonio, Class of 2009.

The first-place showdown between Long Beach Poly and Wilson wasn’t the cleanest Moore League girls’ volleyball match, but the Jackrabbits were more than okay with that.

“We know how to win ugly,” Poly coach Gerald Aquiningoc said. “We practice that in our gym. We get reps at winning ugly all of the time. If we can master that, we’re going to be hard to beat.”

Poly was tough like that in the clutch moments on Thursday evening in front of a full Ron Palmer Pavilion, and came back in multiple sets to beat Wilson 25-23, 25-21, 19-25, 25-21. The Jackrabbits took first place in league with the victory.

“We’re already proving ourselves because we have something to prove this year,” Poly middle blocker Kristen Dear said.

Dear (12 kills) and fellow middle blocker Layla Moore (10 kills) dominated at the net and led the Jackrabbits to six team blocks.

“We’re superior in the middle against anyone in the league,” Aquiningoc said. “(Dear and Moore) have the ability to change games. They stop momentum from the other team, and then they give us a ton of momentum. They ignite us. We’re training them to get big in transition so they’re coming up really big.”

Cedra Talaga and Taylor Mercado anchored the back line for Poly with a combined 27 digs that kept a lot of points alive for the Jackrabbits to take advantage of late.

“A couple of the plays in the big moments like missing a serve or not making the defensive stops we’ve been making all season, came into play in those key moments,” Wilson coach Chris Ceballos said. “That’s why they came back to beat us in the first and second set.”

Long Beach Gives is Here! Early Giving Now Underway

Wilson started brightly in the first set behind Chloe Pravednikov (10 kills) and Babi Gubbins (6 kills) and led 15-10. But Poly’s Kalia Teofilo brought her team back with a sting of serves that included four aces. That 7-0 run gave the Jackrabbits a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Teofilo ended the set 25-23 with her fifth ace.

Teofilo and Hannah Ballungay combined for 41 assists to help Poly overcome a 16-10 deficit in the second set. They spread the ball out to Saniya Kimbrough, Cedar Talaga, Emma Hoder and others, but the middle blockers were the go-to attackers all evening.

“It wasn’t about my involvement, it was just to execute and show up for my teammates,” Dear said. “Do your job so everyone else can do their job. My mindset was about being consistent.”

With the second set tied 20-20, Mercado put down a service ace before a pair of points were won on scramble points near the net as Poly pulled away for the 25-21 set win.

“We just applied a little bit more pressure and were able to be a little bit more resilient when we were down,” Aquiningoc said. “We were able to get more stops than they were.”

Wilson bounced back to take the third set 25-19 thanks to consecutive late aces from Pravednikov, and a big kill from Gubbins down the stretch.

“We’re trying to figure out who we are,” Ceballos said. “We just got a new transfer (Gubbins) who became eligible on Tuesday, so we’re trying to get her into our system and maximize everyone on the team’s ability.”

The Jackrabbits took early control of the fourth set by going back to the middle for big kills. They led by as many as six points in the fourth before holding on to take it 25-21.

Poly (10-2, 5-0) and Wilson (9-3, 3-1) will participate in the Steve Lewis Volleyfest on Saturday at Lakewood High.

VIDEO: Long Beach Poly vs. Wilson, Girls’ Volleyball
PHOTOS: Long Beach Poly vs Wilson Volleyball
JJ Fiddler
JJ Fiddler is an award-winning sportswriter and videographer who has been covering Southern California sports for multiple newspapers and websites since 2004. After attending Long Beach State and creating the first full sports page at the Union Weekly Newspaper, he has been exclusively covering Long Beach prep sports since 2007.