2018 was such a great year for San Pedro High girls volleyball, capturing their own tournament title, and even a CIF-Los Angeles City Section Division 1 championship... yet one glaring thing was missing from that resume.
A victory over Carson.
On Thursday, on one of the more gutsiest, courageous and determined efforts in program history, the host Pirates finally achieved that goal.
A final kill by junior opposite hitter Alyson Watson that just skinned over the net and off two Carson blockers while falling to the ground, was the final moment of San Pedro's incredible 25-19, 25-23, 25-21 Marine League victory, a program fulfilling one that ended the Colts' phenomenal 71-match league win streak, and also busted a 20-match losing streak to Carson dating back to San Pedro's last win in 2009, also the Pirates' last Marine League title season.
There was only one word to describe this feeling that was so indescribable for San Pedro (15-15 overall, 6-2 league).
"Amazing!" San Pedro junior opposite hitter Cassidy Espinosa said with utter joy. "It is truly a surreal moment knowing that we just made history."
And to think that, in the remarkable run by Carson (12-9, 7-1), 57 of those 71 victories came in the form of a three-set sweep, that a sweep the other way around would be the way it would end. Carson last lost in league to Narbonne during the 2013 season, and that went four sets. Another astounding fact that during this streak, none of those victories ever went to a decisive fifth set.
In retrospect, most of the San Pedro players would have been simply content with winning one set, but after winning the opening set, the Pirates wanted more, and they got it... from everyone who played.
Down 19-18 in the first set, a service error by Carson opened the door for the Pirates, and knotted the score at 19. Then came senior outside hitter Alexis Avitia with her serving to stake the Pirates to a set-closing 6-0 run, which was sparked by a kill from another senior outside hitter Isabella Emerson that put San Pedro ahead for good. A block by junior middle blocker Adamaris Vega would be followed by four straight Carson attack errors, and the Pirates grabbed the early 1-0 lead.
Most of the momentum carried over into the opening rally of the second set when another junior middle blocker, Courtney Marshall, electrified the home crowd with a thunderous kill, but Carson responded scoring the next six points. A timely block by Espinosa thwarted that rally, and it was once again a fierce battle of trading side-outs. An ace by freshman libero Paige Courtney followed by another block from Espinosa finally put San Pedro ahead again at 15-13.
When Carson evened the second set again at 16, Avitia would once again take charge with a blistering kill, and her first ace in consecutive rallies, but the Colts would storm back to a 20-19 lead. A timely kill down the left line from Watson and two more Colt miscues put the Pirates ahead 22-20, but the Colts tied it again, and the two teams traded side-outs.
Then with the score tied at 23, a set-up for a kill shot by Carson wasn't properly timed, allowing San Pedro to take the lead one more time, and senior setter Rosie Lopez's clever kill on a tip put the Pirates ahead 2 wins to none, much to the surprise of many in attendance.
San Pedro was primed for the sweep when the last of five aces by Paige Courtney staked the Pirates to a 20-13 lead in the third set, but the nine-time defending league champion Colts weren't about to go down quietly, as they scored the next five points. Then with the Pirates narrowly leading 22-21, another booming kill in a pressure situation by Watson followed by a tough serve from sophomore defensive specialist Vanessa Martinez set up match point.
Once Watson attacked off a perfectly executed back-set by junior setter Gabriella Edwards, it handcuffed two Carson players trying to get it up in the air, then the ball... Watson, and the remarkable league win streak, fell harmlessly to the floor.
"Winning CIF (last year) was an opening door for our program," Avitia said. "But sweeping Carson was special for most of us (seniors) because it might be the last time we ever play them. Many people doubted us, and the coaching staff, but this win proves everybody wrong."
It was a tough week in all for San Pedro, as on Wednesday, they were defeated in straight sets by Taft of Woodland Hills, currently the top ranked team in the CIF-LACS Open Division watch list. Now with this mind-blowing victory, the Pirates appear primed to make another playoff push in Division 1.
The combined performance of Watson (8 kills), Avitia (7 kills, 6 digs, 2 aces), Espinosa (6 kills, 3 blocks) and Paige Courtney (21 digs, five aces) were clutch for San Pedro, but the combined efforts at setter by Lopez (16 assists, 3 aces) and Edwards (12 assists) were also critical. Not to be left out in San Pedro's success on this night, was the tough serves of Martinez, and the 13 digs by San Pedro's only four-year senior, defensive specialist Georgie Smith.
Defeating Carson was like a giant weight lifted from Smith's shoulders.
"This feels awesome," Smith said. "I have never experienced victory over Carson, whereas girls that had been on JV and (freshman-sophomore) in the past that are with me now had. This was a goal that I've had for so long and I'm glad it has finally been accomplished."
Next up for the Pirates, a road match at Banning of Wilmington on Monday.