The St. Francis High girls volleyball team was disappointed but not disheartened after losing last week’s Northern California Division II final to visiting Presentation.
The shorthanded yet spunky Lancers took the Panthers to five games – and the deciding set stretched to 18-16.
“I’m so proud of the effort, execution and competitiveness they displayed (Nov. 29),” St. Francis coach Leahi Hall Leon said. “They’re definitely winners in my mind with what they displayed on the court.”
Added senior setter Taylor Formico, who racked up 51 assists in the match, “I was sad we didn’t win NorCal, but I was content with our performance. We fought hard.”
And the Lancers fought without two of their best weapons: Middle blocker Taylor Deaton has been out since late October with a knee injury and outside hitter Christine Alftin is recovering from an illness that has sidelined her since the Central Coast Section semifinals.
St. Francis won CCS without them, upsetting Presentation in five games, but to repeat the feat in the regionals proved too tall a task. Although the Lancers (33-8) were the top seed and defending state champs, Formico acknowledged that Presentation (40-2) “was the team to beat this year.” The nationally ranked Panthers were 4-0 against St. Francis before the CCS final, the result of which snapped their 31-match winning streak.
As soon as that match ended, members of both teams said they expected to see each other again in the NorCal final. Two wins later, they did.
The first set didn’t go as the Lancers had hoped – Presentation prevailed 25-20 – but they picked it up from there.
“We got off to a slow start,” Hall Leon said, “but the girls gained momentum and that carried us into the second and third sets.”
St. Francis rebounded to win both games: 25-23, 25-22. Alissa Apecechea’s serving spurred the Lancers in the second set, while Veronica Komisarek came through with some clutch kills in the third.
The Panthers persevered, however, staging a late rally to win the fourth game 25-23. It started after St. Francis went up 22-19 on a serve by Alexandra Espinosa, whose 18 kills tied Chloe Lott for the team high. Presentation scored the next five points.
“We beat ourselves at the end of the fourth game, for sure,” Formico said.
The Lancers didn’t seem to be over it when the fifth game began, falling behind 6-0. But they fought back to tie it at 14, urged on by their large contingent of fans.
“To start with that disadvantage and still be able to compete in the match is a testament to the girls’ competitive drive,” Hall Leon said, “and also to the incredible amount of support they received from the school community.”
Formico noted that, “Good defense, confidence and playing as a team got us back into it.”
The teams traded points until 16 all, when the Panthers – led by Emily Sklar (19 kills) – scored two straight to seal the match.
“It could have gone either way,” Hall Leon said of the game. “Unfortunately, it didn’t fall in our favor.”
The coach heaped plenty of praise on her players for their efforts. Hall Leon called right-side hitter Lott “a hammer” for her powerful swings, lauded middle blocker Stephanie Kellogg (eight kills, tying Komisarek for second highest on the team) for doing “such a good job” and described libero Alia Casino (39 digs) as “incredible on defense.”
The coach added that outside hitter Espinosa “was really effective” and that Formico “did a good job fighting through the match and distributing the ball.”