Santa Barbara celebrates a kill by #14 Emmy Werner. | Credit: ENTENZA

First place in the Channel League was up for grabs, and the Santa Barbara High girls’ volleyball team seized the moment with a 24-26, 25-23, 25-20, 25-22 victory over rival San Marcos on Thursday night at the Thunderhut.

A balanced attack allowed the Dons to overcome a spectacular performance by San Marcos sophomore outside hitter Elena Thomas, who finished with 27 kills and 17 digs in defeat.

“Even though we dropped the [first set] to them, the ability to turn the momentum and at least battle back I think gave them the momentum to keep going for the rest of the match,” said Santa Barbara coach Kristin Hempy.

San Marcos enjoyed a size advantage at the net overall, but Santa Barbara’s hitters executed their swings and made the most of opportunities against the Royals’ taller blockers.

Santa Barbara senior outside hitter Shae Delany finished with 11 kills, two aces, and seven digs. Sophomore middle blocker Nicole Schuetz totaled 11 kills and six blocks, and junior Emmy Werner was making plays all over the court with seven kills, three aces, three blocks, and four digs.

“Since I’m shorter than most of the people, I can’t just hit it as hard as I want,” Werner said. “I have to work around the block and work around their defense too, just because I’m more predictable. Since I’m shorter, I hit mainly deep, so I have to switch around what I’m doing.”

San Marcos used a 7-0 run to turn a 11-10 deficit into a 17-11 lead in set one. The Royals lead ballooned to 20-12 before Santa Barbara started to battle back. 

An ace serve by Stella Borgioli cut the Santa Barbara deficit to 20-16 and forced a San Marcos time-out. The Dons eventually took a 24-22 lead when Gracie Meinzer and Schuetz combined for a block. 

However, San Marcos remained composed and closed the set with four consecutive points, including a dump by Josie Gamberdella that put the Royals ahead 25-24 and an ace serve by Kate Edgar that dropped in to clinch the set.

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“You’ve got to give Santa Barbara credit; they played really well. I walked back to the girls and said, ‘That was a great volleyball game,’” said San Marcos coach Tina Brown. “We left it out here on the court, so you’re proud of that. It came down to really the little things.”

In set two, it was San Marcos that attempted to stage a late comeback. The Royals were behind 23-19 but captured three straight points capped off by a solo block by Gamberdella, which cut the deficit to 23-22 and forced a Santa Barbara time-out.

A kill by Schuetz brought the Dons to match point at 24-22, but Eloise McGibben responded with a huge spike down the line, cutting the San Marcos deficit to 24-23.

Werner closed out the match for San Marcos with a kill through the block. 

“She was swinging smart, and she blocked [McGibben] a couple times,” said Brown of Werner’s excellent performance. “She was good. She was a difference maker for them tonight.”

Set three was tied at 18-18, but Santa Barbara closed on a 7-2 run and took a 2-1 set lead on a kill by Schuetz.

San Marcos hung tough in set four but never did take a lead. A kill by Whitney Meister clinched the fourth set and the match for Santa Barbara. 

Santa Barbara now has a firm grip on first place in the Channel League with an 8-1 record. San Marcos is in second place at 7-2 in Channel League play. 

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