ONTARIO — Twice in the last four days, the Sage Hill School girls' volleyball team has been pushed to the limit in a road CIF Southern Section Division 3-A playoff match.
Now, a rival awaits.
The No. 3-seeded Lightning again found a way Tuesday night. They topped No. 2 Ontario Christian on the road, 25-19, 19-25, 27-25, 18-25, 15-6, in a Division 3-A semifinal match.
The next opponent is a familiar one. Sage Hill will play top-seeded rival St. Margaret's in the championship match at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Cypress College. It is a rematch of last year's Division IV-AA title match, won by the Lightning.
Now Coach Dan Thomassen has Sage Hill (19-7) back in the finals for the third time in his nine-year tenure. The first two times, Sage Hill won titles. And this year's team, which finished just tied for second in the Academy League and lost to the Tartans twice, sure seems to be peaking at the right time.
"I like our chances in our best match," Thomassen said. "We've played them twice, and I don't think either was our best match. But we're playing well. For this group to get to go to the [CIF] finals two years in a row, to get to go state two years in a row after losing three really great players last year and moving up a division, I think all those things are things to be proud of."
Senior captain Maggie Danner had a team-high 21 kills Tuesday night, and sophomore opposite Kekai Whitford added 15. Sophomore Halland McKenna was also a force with 12 kills, five service aces and 19 digs. McKenna's last kill ended the match.
Sophomore setter Maddy Abbott also had a standout match with 53 assists, 10 digs and three service aces. One of the aces was particularly huge, as it gave the Lightning the third set, 27-25.
The match was tied 1-1 at that point, but the hosts had the momentum and three set points with a 24-21 lead. But Thomassen watched as his team stayed calm.
The Lightning earned side-out on a kill by Danner, then got an ace by Juliette Singarella to pull within a point. They pulled even at 24-24 on another good serve by Singarella, after Brenna Van Hoogenstyn slammed down an overpass by Ontario Christian (20-6).
Sage saved another set point before taking a 26-25 lead on a Knights net violation, then got the ace from Abbott to give the visitors the set.
"Our constant theme this season has been believing," Whitford said. "I think believing that we could do it was half the battle."
The Lightning lost the fourth set but came out strong in the fifth. They wouldn't have to rally in the fifth, as they did when they came back from a 7-3 deficit in Saturday's quarterfinal win at Riverside La Sierra.
On Tuesday, Sage took a 7-4 lead on another Abbott ace, forcing an Ontario Christian timeout. Then the Lightning finished off the Knights.
"As a senior, I didn't want that to be my last game," Danner said. "We knew that if we came out strong, we could win that last game. We just all were on the same page and had so much energy. We did not want to lose – it was not an option. We've put in the work, so we knew we could do it."
Ontario Christian Coach Paige Molina credited Sage Hill's aggressive serving and shot-making. Ontario Christian senior lefty Carly DeHoog, who is bound for the University of Washington, finished her high school career with a match-high 26 kills. Now Sage is just a match away from back-to-back titles.
"People were asking about, 'Are you worried about going on the road?'" Thomassen said. "It really doesn't affect them. The crowd here was great, just high-energy, and I think our girls fed off the energy."