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The visitors from Crean Lutheran ran into a buzzsaw on Saturday night at the Ron Palmer Pavilion, as Long Beach Poly started fast in every set and delivered another sweep in the CIF-SS Division 3 playoffs.
The Jackrabbits took care of the visiting Saints 25-14, 25-15, 25-18 to advance to next week’s quarterfinal round.
Junior middle Kristen Dear led the way for Poly with 14 kills and four blocks, and she set the tone early with eight kills and two blocks in the opening set.
“My thing was just, let me go out there and do my job and make it easier for everyone else,” said Dear after the sweep. “I’m not saying that I’m the only person that can score but, it’s kind of part of my job as a middle blocker, you know, it’s on the agenda. So my mindset going out was to make sure I’m up when the setter is setting and just do good for my teammates.”
She did a lot of good on Saturday, as did the rest of her teammates. The Jackrabbits had eight service aces on the night, led by three from libero Taylor Mercado, who played another excellent match defensively.
Poly also had an advantage with their block, led by Dear with a match-high four. As a team, the Jackrabbits collected seven blocks getting solo roofs from Dear, junior Layla Moore, and senior Cynthia Hinojosa. Poly got a number of attackers involved, with Hinojosa adding four of her seven kills in set three. Moore chipped in six kills and Cedra Talaga added four.
The Jackrabbits did a great job of starting every set, going up 13-5 in the first game, 10-4 in the second, and an eye-popping 15-2 in the third. Poly admittedly lost focus and allowed the visitors to battle back in the last set, but overall head coach Gerald Aquiningoc was pleased with his team’s improved focus and execution from their first round win.
“After the first match, in the very next practice our word of the day was composure,” Aquiningoc said. “Learning how to control our emotions. And I think with this group, with very little playoff experience, it was a big step forward for us. They played pretty well, we just gotta learn how to close.”
Dear said that the team felt more comfortable in their second round game, based off the experience they gained from last Thursday’s win.
“I think we got our feet wet a little more, so we were able to prepare and get around the pressure and the jitters,” Dear explained. “And making it past the second round, that’s something that Poly hasn’t done in a really long time. We just got the win in the first round, and tonight was like the same feelings. Now we know how to deal with it and play with it and be more effective with those feelings.”
Poly’s last quarterfinal appearance was in 2018, and the Jackrabbits hadn’t won multiple playoff games since the 2017 season. As they advance further into these playoffs, a familiar foe awaits them in the next round.
Poly will be on the road at South Torrance next Wednesday, taking on a team that beat them a month ago in Las Vegas. But a lot has changed since then, and Aquiningoc will surely have his team focused and prepared for their next challenge.
“As a team, we’re in a much better place now, and I feel like us at our best with them at their best is going to be a very, very good game,” Aquiningoc said. “Robert (Kutsch) does a great job down there at South, and I kind of told the girls that he’s eliminated me (from the playoffs) a couple of times, so this is a big one. We all really want this one, but we know that it’s going to be super hard and in a hostile gym with a very well coached team.
“So if we want it, we’ve gotta go get it and we gotta take it.”