Round 3 of Sage Hill School and Crean Lutheran is Saturday. This time, the girls' volleyball teams cannot share a title.
The schools that split the Academy League crown have one more date. Sage Hill (25-5) and Crean Lutheran (21-6) play for all the marbles in the CIF Southern Section Division 3A finale at Cerritos College at 7:30 p.m.
One school has been on this stage before, while the other has not. Sage Hill is making an unprecedented third straight section finals appearance and Crean Lutheran is making its debut.
The No. 1 and No. 2 teams meet yet again. No team will have the home-court edge in Norwalk.
The first round easily went to Sage Hill, which swept Crean Lutheran at home on Oct. 4. The second round appeared to be Sage Hill's, until Crean Lutheran rallied for a five-set victory on Oct. 29, protecting its court and preventing Sage Hill from claiming its first outright league championship.
The setback was Sage Hill's lone in league. Missing out on a perfect league season fuels the Lightning.
On Sage Hill's side is section finals experience. The team returns five starters, junior outside hitters Kekai Whitford and Halland McKenna, junior setter Maddy Abbott, and senior liberos Claudia Noto and Allie Mowrey, from last year's team that finished runner-up to St. Margaret's.
Crean Lutheran does boast nine seniors. Outside hitter Katie Kyckelhahn and setter Cassandra Roberts lead the group. Brooke Rigoni and Kayla Scheevel are also key contributors.
"They deserve to be there," Sage Hill Coach Dan Thomassen said of Crean Lutheran, which has won 11 straight matches. "They're hungry."
The same can be said for Sage Hill, even though the school is playing for a section title for the third year in a row. And for the third consecutive year, Sage Hill is going up against an Academy League team.
For the fourth straight season, the Academy League has teams facing each other for a section championship. The past two years it was rivals Sage Hill and St. Margaret's battling for supremacy, and they split the matchups.
St. Margaret's run at reaching the section finale for a fourth straight year ended in the quarterfinals at home against No. 3 San Bernardino Aquinas. Aquinas is the team Crean Lutheran swept, 25-17, 25-18, 25-21, on the road in the semifinals on Tuesday.
The Lightning got past host Riverside La Sierra in three sets, winning the semifinal match, 25-18, 25-21, 25-22.
Sage Hill and Crean Lutheran have swept each of their four postseason opponents. Their next playoff match doesn't seem like it will end so quickly.
In the past two section championships, Sage Hill has gone the distance each time.
"Just really happy for [three of] our seniors to go to three straight finals," said Thomassen, referring to Noto, Mowrey and middle blocker Juliette Singarella.
This is the fourth time in Thomassen's 10 years in charge of Sage Hill that he has guided the program to a section finals berth. The two times Sage Hill won, it wound up beating the team it shared the Academy League title with during the regular season.
Sage Hill is the last team to knock off Crean Lutheran. Come Saturday, it will have been 26 days since that match.