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It had been an absolutely dominant run for the St. Margaret’s boys volleyball team. The No. 1 seed had not lost a set in the Division 3 playoffs or at all since a tournament loss on March 18.
And while St. Margaret’s opened just as strong on Saturday morning, May 13, the Tartans’ flawless run came to an end in the Division 3 Final at Cerritos College.
No. 3 seed El Segundo stymied St. Margaret’s at net and excelled overall defensively to turn the tide against the Tartans and win the CIF-SS Division 3 championship in four sets, 20-25, 25-19, 25-18, 25-9.
“Our passing really broke down,” St. Margaret’s coach Bob Yoder said. “We’ve been a really good serve and pass team. It’s a cliché, but that’s pretty much the game. We were okay in the first game, but they got to us by the middle of the second game, and we just could not get the ball consistently up there. We’re kind of one- or two-dimensional, and those dimensions didn’t have their best nights.”
St. Margaret’s (30-6) was playing in its second consecutive CIF-SS Final after winning the Division 4 title last season against Capistrano Valley Christian. The Tartans did not lose a set in an unbeaten run through the Orange Coast League.
“The difference is they, and I don’t (want to make) excuses, but they’re really good league where they’re challenged every time,” Yoder said of El Segundo. That’s our challenge. We haven’t lost a set for like two months, so when we lose a set, it’s like ‘oh my god.’ They rallied better than teams we played recently. They did a good job at the net and defensively to just make us play another ball.”
In the playoffs, St. Margaret’s had posted home sweeps of Downey, Pacifica Christian of Orange County and Fountain Valley before sweeping Alemany on the road in the semifinals.
“I think we got a pretty good draw honestly,” Yoder said. “Up until here, we had not faced a really tough, consistent, all-around team even in this division. I was proud of these guys to be able to move up. It’s a school of 450 kids, and it’s a good group of guys.”
St. Margaret’s had a good jump on Saturday morning, as the Tartans funneled their offense through junior Reed Wainwright. St. Margaret’s pushed out to a 10-point lead in the first set, 14-4. El Segundo began to figure itself out and clawed back to a three-point deficit, 20-17, but the Tartans locked things down for the win, 25-20.
The second set opened tighter, but again, St. Margaret’s found an advantage out to a 10-6 lead. Then the set and the entire match swung. El Segundo went on a 6-0 run for a one-point lead, and out of a 15-15 tie, the Eagles won five straight points. El Segundo then took five of the final six points for the set, 25-19, and to tie the match, 1-1.
The third set saw each team trade points up to a 12-12 tie, but from there, El Segundo inched ahead with two points for every one St. Margaret’s point. El Segundo won the third set, 25-18.
St. Margaret’s came undone in the fourth set, as El Segundo surged to the victory. The Eagles soared on a 10-0 run and led by as much as 17 points. St. Margaret’s collected a couple points late, but the match was already lost. El Segundo took the set and the championship, 25-9.
The Tartans will lose a handful of seniors after the state playoffs, including their ever-important setter and field captain Shane Aitken. However, St. Margaret’s returns plenty of talent, including Wainwright, to make another run at a CIF-SS championship.
CIF State Regional brackets will be released on Sunday, May 14, with the first round getting underway on Tuesday, May 16. The regional semifinals are Thursday, May 19, and the finals are Saturday, May 20.