Enter a defiant Rancho Dominguez Prep of Long Beach team that wasn't afraid to go toe-to-toe with the defending league champion Polar Bears. The Lobos were able to do what few teams could, go the distance in a match that decided sole possession of first place in league competition.
In a tight match that could have gone either way, POLA was the only one capable of maintaining their composure once things got dicey and near-chaotic in the final moments of the match, as they withstood several furious rallies by the Lobos and won 23-25, 26-24, 25-19, 12-25, 15-12 at Peck Park to remain unbeaten in Crosstown League play. The Polar Bears (6-8 overall, 5-0 league) are now 2-0 in matches that went the full five sets.
"I was hyped up and excited," POLA senior outside hitter Layanna Tauufau said. "We played aggressive (in the fifth set) and overall we did a good job of keeping our composure."
With the deciding fifth set knotted up at 12-12, a match that already was back-and-forth took a drastic turn that ended up good for POLA's benefit.
A long rally ensued as the two schools jockeyed for that important go-ahead point. POLA appeared to have got away with a lift at one point during the rally, and Rancho Dominguez Prep coach Katrina Tagaloasa was fuming. It got even worse for the Lobos when the rally ended with a kill from POLA senior middle blocker Allison Bayer that somehow landed fair just inside the deep court center line.
Tagaloasa, already irate over the apparent lift that wasn't called, vehemently argued over what she seemed was a questionable call on Bayer's kill that gave POLA the 13-12 lead, and was awarded a red card that gave the Polar Bears a bonus point, setting up match point.
Junior setter Maria Mohan promptly ended the match with a service ace for the Polar Bears, who briefly celebrated the wild finish. The Lobos players, coaches and fans left the Peck Park gym in complete disgust.
Despite that tense scene, Bayer knew she had a job to do under those circumstances.
"My thing was, the fact that we were such in a tense match I just had to get it in," Bayer said. "The important thing was getting in and hitting it as far as I could so they couldn't set it back over."
The brutal ending nearly put a damper on what was an excellent match.
POLA started strong in the first two sets, building a 7-0 lead to begin the match, before Rancho Dominguez (5-2, 4-1) came up on a furious rally to win. In the second set, the Polar Bears reeled off the first nine points, and bolted to a 21-7 advantage before the Lobos rallied again to take a 24-23 lead, and appeared primed to go up 2-0. Yet, an attack error eventually aided the Polar Bears and they would end up winning the set.
The third set had the only back-and-forth start at the beginning until the Polar Bears pulled away late, and Rancho Dominguez Prep dominated the fourth set, taking advantage of several mistakes by POLA to set up the extremely tense deciding fifth set.
POLA's senior captains in Bayer and outside hitter Angela Wade stepped up to the forefront, both providing 14 kills each. Wade added 14 digs and six aces, while Bayer chipped in with 4 digs, 3 blocks and 2 aces. Mohan had five aces, and Taufaau even had a superb outing with seven kills, seven digs and two aces. Senior libero Myra Munoz added 15 digs and 3 aces, and senior setter Annie Constantino had 18 assists and 6 digs.
Sophomore middle blocker Sadie Fiaseu, senior outside hitter Angelica Gomez, senior middle blocker Jahnay Luna and junior outside hitter Camia Lopez all turned in solid efforts for Rancho Dominguez Prep.
Expect some sparks to fly when these two budding rivals get it on again at Rancho Dominguez Prep in the November 4 rematch.