Santa Cruz rebounds from loss, sinks Aptos in four sets

APTOS — Santa Cruz High’s girls volleyball team traveled south to face Aptos on Thursday, looking to rebound from a loss to Harbor two days earlier. A win was crucial for the Cardinals to remain in contention for their first league title since 2001.

But Aptos, part of a quartet of teams deadlocked at the top of the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League standings, opened the evening by jumping to a 5-2 lead. Santa Cruz coach Lina Manley-Diaz called an early timeout.

“Yesterday, we were working on keeping unforced errors low,” Manley-Diaz said. “I called time out and I was patient. I told them to keep errors low and to play the ball. They came out and did it.”

The Cardinals limited mistakes, tightened their defense and hit with confidence and aggression. They rebounded from a 7-2 deficit to tie matters at 8-all and pulled away from a 17-17 tie with an 8-1 closing burst.

Santa Cruz carried the momentum to a second-set win, saw the Mariners fight back to take the third, and then got back on track in the fourth, winning 25-18, 25-15, 21-25, 25-16.

Sadie Jeffrey led Santa Cruz with 11 kills and Gigi Brown and Claire Swidan each put down nine. Setter Phoebe Liermann, starting again with Antonia Wilson injured, dished off 33 assists, picked up three blocks and served five aces.

“We worked well together as a team,” Liermann said. “The loss to Harbor made us realize how badly we wanted to win. We got better at passing and that really helps a setter. Sadie was really on fire and so was Claire and Gigi.”

Hannah Fleming, a UCLA beach volleyball commit who transferred from Scotts Valley, becomes eligible Friday and that will help Santa Cruz (12-3, 4-1) the rest of the way.

Aptos (10-6, 3-2) was paced by Jordyn Waite-Ward with 10 kills and Eve Willis with nine.

Libero Cassidy Beck-Watts steadied the Cardinals’ back row and was supported by Summer Pederson and Shelby Leonardich. They were complemented by the outside hitters rotating through the back row and that enabled Liermann to utilize all her hitting options. Except one.

“We told our middle Jordan (Simpkins) that she would not get a lot because we wanted to avoid their Jordyn,” Diaz-Manley said, referring to Aptos’ 6-foot-3 middle Jordyn Waite-Ward. “We wanted to feed the others and have Jordan draw the block. Hats off to Phoebe, she just executed really well. She set the posts and also set our back row with Summer and Lily (Pederson).”

After Santa Cruz dominated the second set and Aptos struggled to get in system to run their offense, Mariners coach Hunter Zeng inserted Haley Curutan at libero.

“We pulled Haley up to varsity,” Zeng said. “She was the best passer on the JV team. We needed some contributions. She played really good defense tonight and added stability and calmness.”

Curutan was a strong part of Aptos’ resurgence in the third set. The Mariners sharpened the defense and passing, and setters Hannah Curutan and Julia Spinelli were able to energize the offense. Mikayla Santaella smashed four kills and Willis added three as the Mariners led early, held off Santa Cruz flurries and closed with a 4-0 run behind two Waite-Ward kills.

“I think we thought that we were done,” Manley-Diaz said. “We failed to receive serve in the third set and were out of system. Our goal was to get back into rhythm. We started serving tougher.”

Santa Cruz collected four aces and sparkled on defense and passing and that re-ignited their diverse attack. A 12-2 mid-set explosion gave them a comfortable win. Jeffrey led the offense with kills via a tip, a blast down the line and a winner off a deep cross.

“For us, we really needed this win tonight,” Manley-Diaz said. “Not just for our record, but for helping us know what it takes to beat a good team. That will be super important down the road.”

Aptos took positive messages from the evening.

“We did a good job adapting to how they played,” Zeng said. “They are out for their first league championship and I really admire what Lina has done. For us, we took a step forward and we are always learning.”

Harbor 3, Mount Madonna 0

SANTA CRUZ — Sophomore outside hitter Holly Rejfir had seven kills and four aces in the Pirates’ 25-10, 25-19, 25-23 sweep Thursday.

Junior outside hitter Holly Pendergraft had seven kills and three aces for the Pirates (16-3, 4-1), who host Aptos on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Harbor sophomore setter Sandy Enriquez had 10 assists and six digs, and junior opposite Dakotah Johnson had three kills.

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