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By Zach Cavanagh

SAN CLEMENTE – Last season, the San Clemente girls volleyball team and Aliso Niguel split the South Coast League championship by a razor-thin margin, and based on Thursday’s first round between the teams, the Tritons and Wolverines will be fighting tooth and nail for the title once more.

Aliso Niguel played excellent defensively to extend rallies and take the few extra points that made the difference in a four-set victory over San Clemente, 25-20, 16-25, 25-19, 25-21, on Thursday, Sept. 22 at San Clemente High School.

San Clemente (16-7, 1-1) is next at Tesoro on Tuesday, Sept. 27. The Tritons, ranked No. 8 in CIF-SS Division 1/2, will travel to Aliso Niguel (12-3, 3-0), ranked No. 12, to potentially even up for the league championship on Oct. 10.

On Thursday, San Clemente’s energy was much higher than it was when the Tritons nearly slipped against Dana Hills in five-set win on Tuesday, Sept. 20, but when answering Aliso Niguel’s challenges, the Tritons at times struggled to push ahead with missed serves after big points.

“It’s those moments of execution, those things when you need the point,” San Clemente coach Casey Swenson said. “We just made a few too many errors. A few of those serves that we need to stick in the right spot. We were swinging aggressive. We made a lot of good aggressive plays. We just made too many mistakes on some of those aggressive plays. When you’re in a tight match, that’s what hurts you.”

Aliso Niguel also forced a high level of execution from San Clemente with strong defensive play. The Wolverines rarely gave up easy points by digging up San Clemente swings and extending rallies.

“They were winning a lot of the long rallies, too. In a close match, the team that sustains those long rallies they win it a lot more often,” Swenson said. “Not anything that we were necessarily doing badly. They were just playing really well over there. They picked up a ton of balls, and those couple of extra misses here or there add up.”

San Clemente also didn’t back down from any of those Aliso Niguel challenges either.

In the first set, the Wolverines pushed ahead early by margins of 8-5 and 14-8. The Tritons came right back with a 6-0 run to tie the set at 14-14, and the teams traded points to 19-19. Aliso Niguel closed down the set with a 6-1 run, including three aces, to win the first set, 25-20.

San Clemente grabbed hold of the second set with an absolute tear of a run. The Tritons won 10 straight points on a 13-2 run with excellent service from Claudia Mains and big kills from Lily Dwinell. San Clemente took the set, 25-16.

“We were locating our serves. We were putting a ton of pressure on them,” Swenson said. “We were moving our offense around a little bit more. More open swings out of the middle, more combo plays. Reese (Torticill), our setter, made a lot of good decisions.”

San Clemente’s offense swung left and right for big hits all night as Torticill directed traffic for Dwinell, Sofia Williams and Quinn Loper. Hannah Eberle was also strong up front.

The third set went back to the air-tight, back-and-forth nature of the first set with seven tie scores up to 17-17. There, Aliso Niguel closed on a 10-2 run to go ahead and win the set, 25-19.

San Clemente came out strong in the fourth set with a 5-1 lead, but Aliso Niguel swung the match back its way for a 10-7 lead. Out of a 12-12 tie, Aliso Niguel looked to lock down the match with a 6-0 run. However, the Tritons still hung on with a 7-1 rally to tie the match at 19.

Out of a 20-20 tie, San Clemente hit two balls long to put Aliso Niguel ahead, and Aliso Niguel set up for match point off of a ball off the San Clemente block and out and another long Triton hit. The Wolverines hit an ace to win the match, 25-21.

San Clemente will look to get back on track against a down Tesoro, and the Tritons will rev back up for their return to Aliso Niguel on Oct. 10.

“I think the girls were in the right mindset. Even in some of those matches where we got down, we were resilient and came back and made a push,” Swenson said. “I expect the same kind of match the next time we play them, and hopefully a different result.”

Zach Cavanagh

Zach Cavanagh is the sports editor for Picket Fence Media. Zach is a multiple California Journalism Award winner and has covered sports in Orange County since 2013. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ZachCav and follow our sports coverage on Twitter @SouthOCSports. Email at zcavanagh@picketfencemedia.com.

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