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The Santa Ynez Pirates volleyball team finished its CIF run with a thrilling win at home and a heartbreaking five-game loss. The Pirates defeated the Fighting Irish of Kennedy High School in a close 25-14, 18-25, 25-22, 25-20 win. The Irish, out of a strong league in Orange County, entered the match with a quick defense, two tall middles and a great outside hitter. The Pirates countered with an aggressive hitting team, big blocks and a boisterous home crowd.

“That three-hour drive allowed us to jump on them quickly and win game one behind Rachel Szeyller’s (17 kills) outside swings and the clutch serving of Emilie Newton (13 points, 2 kills and 2 aces). The Irish stormed back the next three games, with neither team leading by more than two points.

“Ellen Hemming often had to hit from the back row and consistently kept the Irish on their heels, so they could not run their middles.” Danielle Carlson continued her stellar play with 6 stuffs and a CIF-leading hitting performance 11 kills and 11 digs.”It is all about percentages, when she gets set, we win,” noted Fenenga. Carlson also added 3 diving saves, including a spectacular game one diving save under the referee stand for a point that inspired the team and crowd. “Volleyball is not too complicated, get the ball to your best hitter, channel the ball to your top defenders and cut down on unforced errors.”

The Pirates followed that advice, as Kaci Mexico added 14 digs with sprawling saves and inspired emotion. “We had stretches where we were moving on our passes and missing serves – but in the end, we stayed steady and together playing with fire and focus,” said Fenenga. The timely defense of Ashley Carroll and Devon Williams often led to setter Delanee Stapp (29 assists) lofting the ball to Annika Bastanchury, who gathered 9 kills and also led the team in serving with 14 points and 3 aces. “Their coach had said that their team’s defense was second to none, so I was very proud of our kids’ effort, getting the win with a stronger defense and some clutch hitting,” Fenenga added.

The Pirates had the four-hour drive to El Monte to meet Rio Hondo Prep (21-7) and their Division 1 hitter Chelsea Parker. “We knew they used her arm all the time and practiced for it, but she still lit us up for 34 kills in a wonderful, loud, atmosphere.” The Pirates lost a close 25-14, 22-25, 25-17, 22-25, 12-15 match that had many momentum swings. It is not too often in volleyball that you score more points than your opponent but still lose. “I was so proud of our effort and focus in a hostile, crowded, incredibly boisterous, raucous gym, complete with a marching band playing, the entire football team and student body chanting and cheering, never sitting down for over two and a half hours.” The Pirates fell behind quickly 9-2 but in her career highlight, Emilie Newton jump-served the next 12 points, including 2 digs to bring the Pirates back and take game one 25-14. “That series was incredible as the pressure and noise was intense and they had their top hitter in the front row just blasting balls at us. I will never forget her poise and leadership at that time.”

Game two saw the Pirates make three critical hitting errors and a couple serving errors and fell behind to lose, 25-22. “That was the one we had to win. Their crowd came back, we gave them hope and just lost focus on a couple of points. We couldn’t get the sets to our top hitters and Parker (92 swings with 34 kills) got untracked.”

Game three saw momentum shift back to the Pirates, with their defensive efforts diving and sprawling with bodies littered on the floor. Carroll (6 digs), Stapp (5 digs), Carlson (11 kills and 3 stuffs), Mexico (18 digs), Bastanchury (11 kills), Szeyller (14 kills) and Hemming (5 kills) controlled the floor with 61 digs and the Pirates grabbed a 25-17 win. “It really was heroic watching them fight for points,” said Fenenga.

In game four, the Kares fed Parker every time and some miscommunication errors and crowd noise pressure caused the Pirates to drop three easy points. “You couldn’t hear in there and we had some balls float over that we weren’t ready for. That really hurt us. They gathered 96 digs on the night in an inspired performance. We didn’t hit too many out but the ones we did, really hurt us and we never got back and got a good serving run after Emilie’s game one performance,” the coach added.

In game five, the Kares fed Parker in the front row and she also placed three tips over the block that the Pirates were not able to convert in a 15-12 loss.

“Playing only to 15 with a smart hitter and setter over there made it almost impossible to win. She is in the front row too often, unless we got a block or dig and that didn’t happen. This one really hurt personally as we had some chances, but the kids can be proud of their 21-10 record, the LPL title and some great memories. We graduate five seniors who will be hard to replace, but each year we get new kids who rise to the challenge and keep Pirate volleyball one of the top programs in our area,” Fenenga said.

— Staff Report