The Palm Desert High School girls' volleyball team has lofty goals.
As the No. 3-ranked team in Division 4, it's not a stretch for them to expect to make a deep playoff run.
But coach Becca Brown said it best after Thursday's CIF-SS opening-round win over Hemet.
"You can't make it to step two in the playoffs if you don't win step one," she said while the celebratory notes of "Sweet Caroline" played loudly throughout the gym.
Palm Desert was methodical in taking down a solid Hemet team 25-22, 25-15, 25-16 at home Thursday. With the win, the Aztecs will take that second step in the playoffs, which happens Saturday on the road against Alemany from Mission Hills.
The Aztecs used a similar formula Thursday night that helped them go 10-0 in Desert Empire League play and rack up a 28-5 record on the season so far. The hard-hitting of Katie Rapp, the all-around play of Molly McCarthy, Kelly Meka and Claire Miller doing the dirty work, and Sophia Avery, Victoria Bouffard and Jillian Lester taking care of whatever else is needed.© Taya Gray/The Desert Sun Palm Desert's Claire Miller, left, Molly McCarthy and Keeley Meka celebrate a point during their first-round CIF-SS playoff volleyball win against Hemet in Palm Desert, Calif., on October 21, 2021.
Palm Desert doesn't overwhelm teams as much as beat them with precision and effort. It seems like you're in the game, but their consistency and determination and ability to adjust on the fly is always on display and you look up and you've lost the set 25-15.© Taya Gray/The Desert Sun Palm Desert's Claire Miller, left, Molly McCarthy and Keeley Meka celebrate a point during their first-round CIF-SS playoff volleyball win against Hemet in Palm Desert, Calif., on October 21, 2021.
"Grit." That was how coach Brown consolidated that previous sentence into one word. "These girls really want it and they really want it bad. We knew it was going to be tough, and we had a great week of practice. Seems like the more competition comes and the more the stakes are high, they thrive on that."
The first set was the tightest set, and when the Bulldogs rattled off three straight points to cut the Aztecs' lead to 19-17, Brown called a timeout. The Aztecs got the side out, won the next point on a nice dink shot by Molly McCarthy and then got back-to-back aces from Sophia Avery, who rose up in key moments all night to take command at 23-17.
That separation proved to be enough and even when a tough-minded Hemet team rallied to cut it to 24-22 late, a Katie Rapp kill officially gave the first set to the Aztecs. Had the Bulldogs pulled it out, the momentum might have turned it into a long match.
Katie Rapp, Palm Desert: Rapp was her usual dominating self, peppering Hemet with kills, many found the floor, but to Hemet's credit many were dug. But the toll of Rapp's power game eventually won out. She finished with 16 kills and 11 digs.© Taya Gray, The Desert Sun Palm Desert's Katie Rapp controls the ball during a first-round CIF-SS playoff volleyball game against Hemet in Palm Desert, Calif., on October 21, 2021. Palm Desert won.
Molly McCarthy, Palm Desert: Digs, passes, kills, tips, blocks and enthusiasm. McCarthy brings it all every night and and she did so again Thursday. She had 15 kills, nine digs an ace and two blocks.
Keeley Meka, Palm Desert: Meka showed her versatility particularly in back-to-back points midway through the third set. She used her instincts to surprise Hemet by hitting a soft shot into no-man's land instead of setting it to one of her teammates to earn a point. She then immediately turned around and got a ferocious block on the following point. It was part of a 6-1 surge that turned a 6-6 set into a 12-7 Aztec edge, which they never relinquished. She had 32 assists on the night.
Sophia Avery, Palm Desert: Avery had her service game working. Her tough knuckleball serves were flummoxing the service receive team. She had that key stretch at the end of the first set, and whenever the Aztecs went on a four- or five-point run, it seemed like she was the one serving.
Claire Miller, Palm Desert: Miller was confident with her defensive play all night, collecting 16 service receptions and 11 digs.
Katelynn Sonnier, Hemet: The Bulldog senior was the go-to player for Hemet, consistently confounding the Aztecs with her strong right arm. If a Bulldog was hammering home a kill, it was almost always Sonnier.
Josephine Springer, Hemet: The Bulldog Libero was so active in this one, it seemed like there were three of her. She kept digging up Aztec kill attempts, floor burns galore, and earned the Aztecs' respect.
Brown on Hemet: "They were tough, much better than when we played them before (a 25-13, 25-15, 25-17 win on Aug. 26) and we knew they would be."
Brown on what makes her team tough to beat: "These girls' ability to make in-game adjustments is really what helps. And everyone is getting better. Our middles are getting a lot better, our libero is getting a lot better so I can't complain. They're really working hard."
The Aztecs will be on the road Saturday to face Alemany, a school from Mission Hills. Alemany took down Glendora 3-1 on Thursday night. They finished in third place in the Sunshine League. The game is scheduled for 6 p.m. unless the teams agree to change it.
Shad Powers covers high school sports for The Desert Sun. Reach him at [email protected]
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Step one complete for Palm Desert volleyball as they handle Hemet in CIF-SS playoff opener
Source : https://www.msn.com/en-us/sports/ncaabk/step-one-complete-for-palm-desert-volleyball-as-they-handle-hemet-in-cif-ss-playoff-opener/ar-AAPOpPg4851