When the odds are even, sometimes things can get a little…odd. Playing in their own gym on Thursday against the Lakewood Lancers (ranked number 5 in CIF Southern Section coming in), the Poly Jackrabbits (ranked tenth in CIF-SS) managed to walk away with a tug-of-war victory, 25-22, 14-25, 25-20, 17-25, 15-11. In the odd sets, they looked like a talented young team finding its identity—in the even sets, well, things were odd.
The first game set the tone perfectly, as Poly was led by Litara Kiet and Bria Russ, who finished the match with 15 and 16 kills respectively. Both teams looked relaxed—in the Moore League volleyball matches we’ve covered, who’s been less tense has tended to predict the winner. With set one tied at 22-22, nobody in the gym knew what was going to happen. The Jackrabbits went on a 3-0 run to close it out, and it seemed like they might have momentum going into the second set.
Instead, Lakewood came out firing, and took a big lead early—at one point it was 22-9, and the Lancers looked unstoppable, especially with Taylor Hollins and Jazmine Orozco finding their way around the Poly block; Hollins finished with 15 kills, and Orozco with 14.
But the third set was the story. At 17-14 Poly, in the dead middle of the five set match, the next two points were both incredibly long rallies. The Lancers and Jackrabbits tried to get the ball to hit the wood in every possible way, using big swings, dumps, and cut shots—each time, the opposing defense found a way to dig it back up again. Lakewood won the first rally, and Poly the second, and every fan on both sides of the gym started crossing their fingers that we’d get to see them play each other again in the playoffs.
Ultimately Poly pulled away in the third, in large part because libero Nailah Waterfield had two consecutive aces, to pull the score from 21-19 to 23-19 (she had an ace earlier in the set as well). “Those plays were really exciting,” Waterfield said after the match. “Both could have gone either way, but they went for them.” Lakewood came out and put on another clinic in the first portion of the fourth set, going up 21-11 before the Jackrabbits put together another momentum-stealing run to end the set, with a 5-0 burst before Lakewood coach Mike Wadley called a timeout to settle his team down. “We just flat out let up,” Wadley said. “We let them back in.”
Poly did what we’ve seen them do in a few matches now, and rolled that momentum into the next set, where the sophomore Kiet took over, with five kills on the way to a 15-11 Poly victory. The victory for Poly legitimizes the promise they’ve shown this season, which had seen them climb into the CIF’s top ten rankings without beating league-mates Wilson or defending state-champs Lakewood. “They’re really maturing,” head coach Leland McGrath said. “For five minutes, we can be the best team in the state, and for another five minutes, we can be the worst. I’ve just got to figure out a way to help them be more consistent.”
If the Jackrabbits hope to knock off the Wilson Bruins, they’ll need to be—in the matches we’ve seen, there hasn’t been much up and down with Susan Pescar’s team. Both the Jackrabbits and the Lancers will face Wilson (currently ranked number 2 in CIF-SS) in the last week of league play. Hopefully we’ll get to see a five-set thriller like the one that took place at Poly—if not, there’s always the playoffs…
To watch the game for yourself, make sure to check out JJ’s highlight video. If it piques your interest, the game will be shown in its entirety on ed.sports, which airs on Charter channel 35 at 2pm on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.