Santa Barbara's student section flooded the court to celebrate with the team after the three-set sweep. | Credit: Ryan P. Cruz

Santa Barbara’s magical girls’ volleyball season came to a perfect ending Saturday night with a 3-0 victory over El Rancho at a raucous J.R. Richards Gymnasium to clinch this year’s CIF Championship.

In a “battle of the Dons,” with both teams sharing the same school mascot, the home team Santa Barbara came out on top in three straight sets: 25-19, 25-23, and 25-19. Each set was competitive, and an unseeded El Rancho squad gave top-seeded Santa Barbara a challenge, but strong play from senior Emma Zuffelato and juniors Shae Delany and Annie Knecht kept the home Dons in control.

First-year head coach Kristin Hempy led Santa Barbara to the school’s first girls volleyball CIF title since 2008, when Hempy was a senior in high school.

“I’m really excited, really proud of the girls. They worked hard, and they battled,” Hempy said.

The team has performed well all season, winning more than 20 games and losing just four, with no losses since September 14.

“We adjusted a lot midway through the season,” Hempy said. Two back-to-back losses against crosstown rivals Dos Pueblos and San Marcos in early September forced the team to make some changes for the better, she said, and the team pulled together — not only avenging the rivalry losses by defeating both Dos Pueblos and San Marcos later in the month, but going undefeated for the rest of the season — winning 12 straight on the way to the CIF finals. “They really gelled,” Hempy said

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The three-set sweep marks the 16th sweep of the year for Santa Barbara, who did not lose a set in each of three playoff games.

El Rancho had some momentum in the first and second sets on Saturday, but Zuffelato’s 10 kills and 14 digs always seemed to come in at the perfect momentum to swing the momentum and electrify Santa Barbara’s rowdy student section. “She had a really great night,” Hempy said.

Delany and Knecht, both juniors, played a huge role in the victory. Delany had a game-high 16 kills along with 9 digs, while Knecht had 14 digs of her own and an amazing 26 assists. Senior libero Carolina Koceman also had 14 digs in the game, which came in clutch during a few rallies.

El Rancho’s Roselia Cazares kept her team in the fight, with well-timed kills giving the visiting Dons hope deep in the second set.

Santa Barbara’s crowd was a factor, especially once the home team rolled through the third set to a 20-11 lead. Though El Rancho snagged some key points to come within five at 24-19, Zuffelato sealed the deal with a finesse kill shot that sent the student section flooding onto the court and clinched the CIF title for Santa Barbara.

“It’s great to see the community come out and support,” Hempy said. “It’s unexpected. All credit to the girls.”

Santa Barbara will compete in the state playoffs beginning Tuesday.

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