HS Girls’ Volleyball: Cornerstone Christian joins Linfield Christian as CIF Southern Section Champions

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Paige Williams (9) and the Linfield Christian High School Lions are Div. 6 Champions defeating Nordhoff Saturday, Nov. 9. David Canales photo

History has been made twofold for not just one local girls’ volleyball team, but for two of them. In what was dubbed as the CIF’s first-ever championship contested on Catalina Island, Cornerstone Christian High School’s quick work of their Division 9 match-up, sweeping host Avalon High School, 25-11, 25-12, 25-20 Saturday, Nov. 9. Senior outside hitter Luci Villafana racked up 13 kills for the Lady Crusaders who have now won 18 consecutive matches without dropping a set since Sept. 19. Their only loss was back in early September to Rancho Christian High School.

Cornerstone Christian already had a competitive roster but when seven players came over from Calvary Murrieta High School, after that high school suddenly closed in May. Coach Ryan Shipley knew great things were brewing, he said.

“It’s the first championship for Cornerstone Christian,” Shipley said. “These girls put in the work, and it means the world to everybody.”

Junior setter Alex Sotello, who nailed the match winner in the third set, and middle, Elica McDermet, added six kills apiece while senior setter Shyla Carter drilled home five aces. Cornerstone Christian will face St. Bernard High School of Playa Del Ray this week in a Division V State match-up.

In what was a bout of déjà vu, the Lady Lions of Linfield Christian High School took on the same opponent – this time in the Division 6 brackets – and had the same outcome in the same number of sets. Linfield Christian faced off against Nordhoff High School Saturday, Nov. 9, and cruised to a four-set victory, claiming back-to-back CIF titles (25-18, 25-20, 22-25, 25-12) over the Rangers. Linfield Christian only looked a bit shaky once, allowing the third set to slip away after taking a 19-17 lead.

“This is a pretty special group,” coach Eric Hawes said. “They’ve basically been playing together since middle school and trust each other enough to know how to fight back.”

With the score knotted at 2-2, Sarah Newman took the ball at the service line and reeled off eight points, grabbing a lead the Rangers (30-3) could not come back from.

“Sarah has been a big part of our success,” middle blocker Paige Williams said. “When she did that, to be honest, that’s expected. She comes up big.”

Williams also spearheaded a dominant effort at the net, picking up 11 of Linfield’s 22 blocks. She also had 15 kills, including five of seven opportunities in the first set.

Sophomore Breanna Mitchell also played a huge role, matching Williams’ 15 kills, including a six of nine performance in the second set. She also ignited a home crowd and her teammates with a couple of monster kills that needed to be fished out of the bleachers.

“Bre has fit in with this group remarkably well,” Hawes said. “These girls just love volleyball. That’s what it comes down. And anyone who comes into the group who loves volleyball like they do, they’re good with.”

Linfield Christian will take on Scripps Ranch High School from San Diego in the first round of the SoCal CIF Division III State playoffs this week.

Two other local teams also made it to the CIF Southern Section finals but found themselves as runners-up when all was said and done. Esperanza High School knocked off Murrieta Valley High School, winning three straight sets to defeat the Lady Nighthawks 3-2 in their CIF-Southern Section Division 2 championship match Saturday, Nov. 9, at Cerritos College (22-25, 17-25, 25-22, 25-15, 15-7). Senior outside hitter Rachael Yelenich led the Nighthawks with 25 kills.

Murrieta Valley (27-9), which was making its first appearance in a CIF-SS girls’ volleyball final, also advanced to the SoCal CIF State tournament and will face Norco High School in the first round of the Division II bracket.

Finally, Ontario Christian High School outlasted Paloma Valley High School in the CIF Southern Section Division 3 championship at Cerritos College (25-18, 18-25, 25-21, 18-25, 15–13). It isn’t the first time the two opponents have met; in fact, they both played it out in the Division 5 championship match last season and again in the 2018 state tournament.

“We have been on a collision course to meet since the start of the year,” Ontario Christian coach Paige Liebhart said.

Both teams made big runs in the final set. A pair of kills sparked a 6-0 run by Ontario Christian to open the set, but Paloma Valley answered back with a 7-1 run, highlighted by two blocks from Shannon Dunkin. Ontario Christian reached match point at 14-10, but Lizzy Markovska recorded a kill and combined with Rachel Lowe for a block to help Paloma Valley fight off three match points, but it wasn’t enough in the end.

“We wanted to show them that we learned from those losses last year,” Paloma Valley coach Stephen Kaas said. “We did that and we played better, but we still wanted to win.”

Gabby Hollins has 17 kills and Jayde Shelton added 13 more for Paloma Valley. Olivia Karwin had a match-high 49 assists, and Gwendolyn Poulsen had 25 digs to lead all players. The Lady Wildcats will take on Carlsbad High School in the SoCal Division II State tournament.

Also making a showing in the state tournament will be Vista Murrieta High School, who fell in the second round of the Division 1 playoffs after beating Corona del Mar High School (3-1). The Lady Broncos will face La Jolla Country Day School this week in the first round of the Division I bracket.

JP Raineri can be reached by email at sports@reedermedia.com.