What a long, strange trip it's been for Immanuel (24-4), which lost its CIF-Central Section final and was forced to go on the road as the last seed in the state playoffs. The Eagles, a team from a small town south of Fresno, went south to Hemet to beat Baptist Christian, then made two trips to San Diego County to beat Tri-City Christian and Santa Fe Christian before landing in the state title match in Orange County. That's 2,600 miles of traveling during the playoffs in a tightly packed van, listening to N Sync, playing cards and sharing story after story. The payoff was certainly worth it.
"We weren't traveling all those hours for nothing," said senior middle Shailey Jones.
Priory (27-5) appeared to be the better team early in the match, as star middle blocker Cassie Perret was unstoppable from all over the court, seemingly reprising the form that helped her team to the state title last year. Behind Perret kills and two aces from star outside hitter Francesca Centofanti, the Panthers claimed a 6-2 lead in Game 1, but Immanuel didn't fold. When Perret went to the back row, the Eagles mounted a comeback and tied the game at 8-8 on an ace by Jones. They took the game, 15-10, when Kari Jost went cross-court for a kill.
The second game was much like the first. Priory got eight kills from Perret in forging an 11-6 lead, but when she went to the back row, the Panthers couldn't score. Priory hung on grimly to the lead and had a game point at 15-14 after a block by Mandy Hafleigh. But an ace serve by Erin Jost caused by Priory's miscommunication, a block on Perret by McKenzie Angangan and a game-winning kill by Angangan moments later sent Immanuel to the 17-15 win and 2-0 lead.
"I told the girls throughout the state playoffs that our team can beat two players," Immanuel coach Ken Clyburne explained. "If that's all they've got, our team will prevail."
The final game was a jailbreak as Immanuel seized the momentum and didn't let down, as Priory shoulders sagged with every Eagle ace, block or kill.
"I think we kind of gave up," said Priory setter Lisa Flagg.
"Defensively, we have gotten stronger every game in the playoffs," Clyburne said. "Today was the best defensive effort I have ever seen in my life."
Perret, who was named match MVP, had 22 kills to lead Priory. But only three Panthers put balls away the entire morning. Immanuel, by contrast, had no hitter in double figure kills. Jones and Bethany Fraker led the Eagles with nine apiece. But 15 blocks – seven by Angangan – and 45 digs proved the difference.