In football, the goal is to be playing during Thanksgiving Week. Before the CIF-SS adopted a compressed calendar four years ago the goal for volleyball teams was to be playing as far into November as possible. Now it’s to get to Halloween with a shot at a championship which is what three teams from our Valley News coverage area have an opportunity to do tomorrow evening.

All teams reaching their divisional semifinals have qualified for the CIF-State tournament along with Temecula Valley.

Division 2:

No. 2 Vista Murrieta at El Toro

In 2019, Vista Murrieta won a CIF-State Division 1 championship at Santiago Canyon College when senior outside hitter Claire Little, and classmates, were freshman. Saturday afternoon the Lady Broncos, making a second straight trip into Orange County, have an opportunity to advance to a section title game for the first time in program history.

Standing in their way is an unseeded El Toro team that after a bye in the opening round has not dropped a set in two matches. The Chargers won last year’s Division 3 title by forfeit after it was discovered that JSerra used an ineligible player. Koko Kirsch and Maia Niemen are their top attackers, combining for 28 kills in the sweep of Temecula Valley. Other key contributors for Vista Murrieta include Lauren Ly and Madison Pulsipher.

Road to the semifinals:

El Toro: Bye, def San Juan Hills 3-0, def Temecula Valley 3-0

Vista Murrieta: Bye, def Orange Lutheran 3-0, def San Clemente 3-1

Should the Broncos advance they’d be at #1 Redondo Union or at home against #4 Aliso Niguel if this match is not assigned to Cerritos College.

Division 6:

No. 2 Rancho Christian at No. 6 Arrowhead Christian

This one is a nice regional matchup as Arrowhead Christian, 4 years removed from an 0-18 campaign, looks for the school’s second CIF-SS championship match appearance since 2006 under former coach David Han. It’s been a decade since ACA even qualified for the postseason and that streak goes back to Han’s final year at the helm. Meanwhile, Rancho Christian is looking for their second championship game appearance in four years. The previous trip to championship weekend was in 2018 under former coach Jim Downey where they fell to perennial small school power Faith Baptist of Canoga Park.

Rancho Christian profile:  

Overall Record: 31-2 Overall

League Record: 8-0 Sunbelt Champions (Middle League of the Raincross Conference)

Coaches Ranking: No. 2

MaxPreps Rank: No. 2

Head Coach: Luci Villafana (1st Year)

Road to the semifinals:

Defeated Knight 3-0, defeated Calvary Chapel Santa Ana 3-1, defeated La Reina 3-0

Players to Watch: Mariah Hughes (5.3 Kills Per Set and a .422% hitting percentage, 46 aces, 106 digs thru October 11th), Savannah Thomas (3.2 Kills Per Set and a .389% hitting percentage), Ellie Nichols (3.5 Kills Per Set and a .451% hitting percentage)

Hughes and Nichols are both Point Loma (NCAA Division 2-PacWest Conference) commits.

Arrowhead Christian profile:

Overall Record: 21-6

League Record: 6-2 Ambassador Runner Up

Coaches Ranking: No. 6

MaxPreps Rank: No. 1

Head Coach: Brittney Amey (2nd Year…hired prior to the 2020 canceled season)

Road to the semifinals: defeated La Sierra 3-1, defeated Oxford Academy 3-0, defeated #3 Riverside Poly 3-1

Players to watch: Taylor Wilson (Junior OH), Kayla Goodwin (Senior MB), Sydnee Mouw (Junior MB)

Keys to the match:

Special thanks to Linfield Christian head coach Dana Ortiz & Lakeside head coach Dena Lindsey for their help with this part of the preview.

  1. Serve and Pass:

Seemingly every match comes down to this. “Arrowhead Christian will have to pass well to be able to run their fast offense efficiently.” Ortiz remarked via text message. “They serve tough so if they can get Rancho Christian out of system to slow down their offense, they can be successful. Rancho Christian has to be in system to win games but should do well all around now that they have a third hitter this season.”

  1. Defense, defense, defense:

Both sides feature solid attackers that can score in a variety of ways and whoever can take more options away should find themselves with a practice date on Halloween. “Arrowhead Christian is smart and places the ball well.” said Lindsey via direct message. “For Rancho Christian, Nichols and Hughes are a strong duo that the Arrowhead Christian defense will have to be prepared for.

“Arrowhead Christian is a high effort and big hustle team so the rallies should be long, and I wonder if Rancho Christian can match that level?” remarked the Lions second year coach. “Rancho Christian will probably block well against Arrowhead Christian, especially if they can get them out of system.”

  1. Who steps up behind the stars?

Matches like this often come down to a player you don’t expect to have a big night. The question is who will that be, and will it be enough to propel that team to Championship Week?

“We played both teams and they were the toughest matches we had all year.” Lindsey said. “I think this is going to be a great match and can’t wait to see who earns that finals spot.”

Winner of this match will be away at either #4 Santa Clarita Christian or #1 Simi Valley or at Cerritos College.

Twentynine Palms at Orange Vista

Orange Vista, the Inland Valley League’s third place team, is still a relatively young school but making their mark in volleyball. This is the program’s second round of eight appearance or farther in four years. They fell at Lone Pine in a division 10 quarterfinal in 2017. This edition of the Coyotes has the only win over a ranked opponent in this matchup, defeating Sierra Vista on Wednesday night in a five-set thriller.

Road to the semifinals:

Twentynine Palms: defeated Moreno Valley 3-0, defeated Ramona Convent 3-0, defeated California Lutheran 3-1

Orange Vista: defeated #2 Montclair 3-1, defeated St. Mary’s Academy 3-0, defeated #7 Sierra Vista 3-2

The winner of this match will likely host a CIF-SS championship match next weekend.

Derryl Trujillo has been a local sportswriter since 2018 and is the 2019 IEBCA Supporter of the Year. He can be reached via email at socaltrekkie@gmail.com.