The Christopher High girls volleyball team has dropped the opening game in each of its first two Central Coast Section playoff matches due to nerves. In both cases, the Cougars have come roaring back to win. Their historic season continues after a riveting five-set win over Hillsdale on Thursday in a Division II semifinal.
Game scores were 19-25, 25-10, 25-13, 21-25, 15-13. Top-seed Christopher (24-2) advances to the championship match against No. 2 seed Aragon (25-10) on Saturday at Gunn High in Palo Alto at 12:30 p.m. Win or lose, the Cougars have clinched a spot in the CIF NorCal playoffs.
“We’re excited and ready to play tomorrow,” Cougars senior Allison Duross said. “In the fifth set we came out fighting and we were determined to win. Losing was not an option for us at that point given how how far we’ve come.”
The Cougars led 12-8 in Game 5 before Hillsdale rallied to make things a little too exciting for the home side at the end. On match point, Duross delivered a pass to Senna Kolagotla, who set the ball to Maya Tabron. Guess what happened next?
“Of course Maya nailed the ball, we got the point and it was super exciting,” Duross said.
“I was getting a little nervous there for a second because a volleyball match is all about momentum,” Cougars coach Ramon Rodriguez said. “Fortunately, we were able to finish it out.”
Tabron had 14 kills and 11 digs, Kruger had 10 kills and eight blocks, Duross finished with 11 kills and Kennedy Bretz added three blocks for Christopher, which according to Rodriguez is playing its best volleyball of the season.
“We’re peaking at the right time,” he said. “If we can control our side of the net, we’ll be hard to stop.”
Even though most of the players in the starting lineup play club volleyball, Duross said the dynamic of playing in CCS is a little different.
“Being in CCS is new to us,” she said. “But I think we tend to forget we’re ranked as the No.1 seed, and that we’re in this spot for a reason. I think going into the finals our mentality will be a little different because win or lose we’ve made it this far. I think we got nervous of the thought of needing to get to the finals, and that is what kind of set us back in first set. But now that we know we’ve qualified for NorCals, we can go into tomorrow’s match with a positive mentality and not let the nerves get to us.”
Duross credited the Christopher student section and fans for their unwavering support. Immediately after Tabron’s kill on match point, the student section rushed the floor and formed a makeshift tunnel for the players to run through in celebration.
“The student section has been amazing,” Duross said. “They’ve been such a good support for us all the way through, and they make things more exciting.”
Rodriguez felt the energy of the crowd and was effusive in his praise for the student section last night.
“One of the factors (to us winning) last night was the crowd,” Rodriguez said. “I mean the crowd was incredible. Our fans are loud, energetic and they inspired our girls and really got them going. It was something special.”
While Tabron and middle blocker Sara Kruger deserve all of the accolades they receive due to their outstanding play, there is no doubt Christopher wins with a team effort. Unsung heroes like setter Madison Hammer exemplify the balance and depth of the team. Rodriguez said Hammer made an incredible dig at one point in the match that Kat Javier followed with a bump over the net, with Christopher eventually winning the point.
“It looked like the ball was dropping when all of a sudden you see Maddie flying to the ground and getting the ball up,” he said. ” The energy was through the roof at that point, and she makes plays that changes games.”
Hammer is a versatile talent, playing setter but also able to play libero and other positions on the floor. Reliable and consistent, Hammer knows how to get the job done, just like her teammates.
“We had six to seven different players who took over at different moments last night,” Rodriguez said. “Maya is obviously our star hitter, but you have everyone from Sara Kruger to Sydney Ogden and our setters and our libero who stepped up at different points. That’s what makes this team special.”