By Zach Cavanagh

SAN CLEMENTE – Upsets are in style at San Clemente High School this week.

After being swept by Dana Hills in their two previous meetings this year, it was clear the Tritons came with a different energy right from the get-go on Wednesday night.

San Clemente outlasted Dana Hills in an electric, 30-point opening set and rode that wave of energy from a hyped Triton crowd to a sweep victory, 30-28, 25-16, 25-15, over the No. 3 seed Dolphins in a CIF-SS Division 2 quarterfinal match at San Clemente High School.

“It’s cliché to just say execution,” San Clemente coach Casey Swenson of what was different in this match against Dana Hills. “All the games we played against them (in the first two matches) were close, except for maybe the first one. We know the opponent. All these girls play together in club and wherever else. It’s just a matter of executing, knowing what they’re going to do and responding the right way. And being really, really persistent all night long.”

San Clemente (29-7) advances to the CIF-SS Division 2 semifinals and will play on the road at Trabuco Hills on Saturday, Oct. 27 at 6 p.m. The Sea View League champion Tritons beat the Mustangs twice this season, first in a five-set nonleague match at Trabuco Hills on Aug. 15 and second in a three-set tournament semifinal at Tesoro on Aug. 20.

“That’s insane,” San Clemente junior Abby Stewart said of advancing to the semifinals. “Compared to our season last year (16-16 overall and 0-8 in league), this season has totally changed. We’re a whole new team now.”

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Dana Hills (25-7) looked and felt extremely confident in and coming out of their previous second round match, a four-set win over Huntington Beach, but the Dolphins struggled to gain consistency against San Clemente. Dana Hills now waits for its draw in the state playoffs next month.

“The first game was big for both teams,” Dana Hills coach Gus Culver said. “Gym came into effect, for sure. A little bit the ceiling. The other thing is they (San Clemente) played hard, touched a lot of balls on defense and kept plays alive. The third thing was, compared to the last couple times we played them, their right side played really well.”

The key on the right side for San Clemente was Stewart who knocked down a team-high 16 kills.

“She’s just always so steady, but tonight was extra special,” Swenson said. “A little extra juice on the ball, a little extra mustard. She just made good decision after good decision all night long. They didn’t have an answer.”

Junior Ella Gardiner posted nine kills with a team-high three blocks. Junior Julia Wilson and senior Kirra Schulz were a huge part of the Tritons’ serve-receive game that kept San Clemente in it all night with 23 digs and 21 digs, respectively. Senior Malia Yim racked up 25 assists, junior Lexi Gruszcynski claimed four aces and junior Chanel Sud added three aces.

The first set was wild as momentum swung from the packed San Clemente side of the gym and the extremely well-represented Dana Hills side of the gym. The teams played to 15 different tied scores in the set.

“You could definitely feel the tension on the court,” Stewart said. “It was exhausting to be out there, but every point was worth it.”

Each team went on decent runs to establish a lead, but just as quickly as the lead was built, it would disappear.

Coming out of a 23-23 tie, Dana Hills took the lead for its first set point, but San Clemente evened at 24-all. San Clemente fought off three set points to tie the match at 26-26, and then the Tritons took control with a 27-26 lead.

“We get ourselves in that position at the end, that’s all I can hope for,” Swenson said. “Then it’s just flip a coin. Both teams were playing so well, and we caught a little break here, little break there and it goes.”

San Clemente and Dana Hills traded points until the Tritons’ third set point. Junior Ella Gardiner came up with the block to take the set, 30-28, and blow the roof off the San Clemente gym.

“We feed off of that,” Swenson said of the crowd. “We preach to the girls all week that if we just keep applying that pressure, it’s going to weigh on them just as it weighed on us when we played before. If we could keep turning good plays into better plays, then that’s what’s going to happen. The crowd’s going to get going.”

In the second set, Dana Hills seemed to right its ship early with a four-point lead, 6-2, but the Dolphins couldn’t completely find their rhythm as San Clemente clicked into a 9-1 run to tie the game at 9-9 and surged ahead, 15-10.

“I think game one that was the game both teams needed to come out and win,” Culver said. “On top of that, we don’t get out to a great start in game two. So that’s the result.”

San Clemente kept its distance through the end of the set and closed on a 6-0 run to win, 25-16.

San Clemente led start to finish in the third set. Dana Hills never forced a tie score, and the Tritons pulled away with an 8-1 run.

Gruszcynski posted three consecutive aces to send San Clemente to match point, and on their second match-point attempt, Schulz ended the match with one last kill, 25-15.

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