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Long Beach Poly Volleyball

CIF Volleyball: Long Beach Poly Sweeps Into Second Round

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

It’s been several years since the Long Beach Poly girls’ volleyball team advanced past the first round of the CIF Southern Section playoffs, so it’s understandable that the Jackrabbits were showing some nerves at the start of their CIF-SS Division 3 opener against Sherman Oaks Notre Dame. Playing in the sweltering Ron Palmer Pavilion on Poly’s campus, the Jackrabbits fell behind 7-5 in the first set despite not having given up a kill to the Knights. The Jackrabbits’ seven errors would ultimately wash away as they settled in to execute a dominant sweep, 25-15, 25-18, 25-20.

“It was unsaid but we were all feeling the nerves, even I was feeling it,” said Poly coach Gerald Aquiningoc. “This group has surpassed so many obstacles, they’re trying to set a new standard for what Poly is. The nerves were there, I could feel them. And once we got into our system, we were okay.”

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Poly’s system is somewhat unique in high school volleyball, in that they rely on great passing, and a high volume of sets to the middle of the net. That was obvious in the first set as middle blockers Kristen Dear and Layla Moore would combine for seven kills and three blocks. Dear ended up with 12 kills (on perfect 1.000 hitting) while Moore finished with five kills and five blocks.

“We’re not trying to make the pretty play, we’re trying to make the right play,” said Aquiningoc. “Get our middles started and then work to the outside.”

Dear said it’s a lot of fun getting to play in a system that features the middles as much as Poly’s does. With both she and Moore returning next year, the future is bright for the Jackrabbits.

“I enjoy it, I think it’s different because you don’t see a lot of high schools running their offense from the inside out,” she said. “And it’s very effective–it’s hard to stop us in the middle.”

After cruising in the first two sets (including a 10-2 second-set lead) Poly ran into some adversity in the third, and saw the score tied 16-16. That’s when Kalia Teofilo stepped to the back line and took control. She served up an 8-0 run that included four aces and an easy overpass kill for Cynthia Hinojosa, effectively ending the match. Teofilo said she wanted to end the match, and not just because of the heat in the Poly gym.

“I was like, ‘You gotta get out of this,’ and I’m glad my team came through,” said Teofilo. “I’m so excited to be playing with this team and to be moving on to the next round, this is a big step for all of us.”

Dear said she was proud of her team for the progress they’ve made, from finishing fourth place in the Moore League last year to winning the league title with Wilson this year and making it to the second round of the playoffs.

“I feel like it’s all about the heart,” she said. “Last year we were talented, this year we’re talented. It’s about how bad do you want it? How much do you love your teammates? Is the chemistry there? That’s what’s worked this year, we all want that same goal.”

Teofilo led from the back line with seven aces, backed up by three each from Cedra Talaga and libero Taylor Mercado. Moore had nine kills and five blocks, while Saniya Kimbrough had nine kills in the match.

Poly (25-8) will host Crean Lutheran at 6 p.m. on Saturday, trying to advance to next Wednesday’s quarterfinals.

VIDEO: Long Beach Poly vs. Notre Dame (SO), CIF Girls’ Volleyball
PHOTOS: Long Beach Poly vs Notre Dame CIF Volleyball
Mike Guardabascio
An LBC native, Mike Guardabascio has been covering Long Beach sports professionally for 13 years, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards for his writing as well as the CIF Southern Section’s Champion For Character Award, and is the author of three books about Long Beach history.