Mitchan’s five kills in Game 5 help rescue Owls
AREA TEAMS INCLUDED: Highlands, Southside.
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Someone from Highlands needed to take individual responsibility when Southside pushed the Owls to a fifth game in their season opener Aug. 13.
At least, that’s how Highlands junior Bryten Mitchan felt after the Cardinals rallied from a 2-0 deficit. Mitchan was more than willing to step forward and help the Owls (now 3-4) secure a 25-19, 25-21, 14-25, 17-25, 17-15 victory at Highlands.
“I wanted to get it in three (games),” she said. “We didn’t want to lose our first match of the season. We wanted to be 1-0.
“We wanted to come out strong, and we did. Then we worked together as a team to win.”
Mitchan blasted five kills in the decisive game alone. The last of her nine kills enabled Highlands to break a 15-15 tie against the energized Cardinals (4-4). Owls sophomore Kiara Pesina ended the marathon match on the next serve by delivering her third ace.
Southside also lost its opening match in five games, falling 20-25, 25-17, 21-25, 25-18, 15-13 to Providence Aug. 11. However, Soto said her team raised its game against Highlands.
“It was a very good match,” Southside coach Anna-Rosa Soto said. “We started off slow, but the girls pulled it through. We had first-match jitters against Providence. I also had two girls sitting out. One (Klaryssa Vela) came back today and the other will be back next week.”
The very real threat of losing its first 2014 match resonated with Highlands, as several players returned from the squad that began the season with an 0-10 record last year. One area that Owls coach Jaci Barrientes wanted to see her team improve on was its ability to finish close matches.
“That last game, (Southside) pushed us to the brink,” Barrientes said. “They pulled even at 14-14 and 15-15, but we were able to stay strong and pull it out – and that’s what I was hoping to see.
“In Games 3 and 4, we lost focus. I guess, maybe, we got a little overconfident. Our serve-receive fell apart, taking nothing away from Southside. They kept going at it.”
The Owls controlled the first two games behind the hitting of Jazmine Jackson (12 kills, 1.5 blocks).
Following a powerful kill from Jackson that gave Highlands a three-point lead, a pair of aces from Genesis Garcia gave the Owls a commanding 22-13 lead. Jackson put down another kill after the Cardinals cut the lead to four.
In Game 2, Southside sophomore setter Alyssa Gallardo (11 assists, 9 digs, 4 aces) tied it 20-20 with an ace. Two Southside errors and a pair of consecutive kills from Jackson put Highlands at game point and another finished the win. The junior produced six kills in the game.
Gallardo (11 assists, 9 digs, 4 aces) fueled the Cardinals’ comeback with her defense and serving. A kill from freshman Mia Soto (9 kills, 3 aces), the coach’s daughter, coupled with blocks from Ashley Sanchez (4 kills, 2 blocks) and Chloe Davis kept the pressure on the Owls.
Highlands also was harmed by five missed serves. The Owls missed 15 serves in the match, compared to Southside’s 13, but Highlands’ misses seemed to come at more inconvenient times.
“We had a ton of missed serves,” Barrientes said. “That didn’t help at all. It was the first match for our second setter (Jazlyn Losoya) and one of our hitters Samara, (Kennedy). Even with Jenelle (Rodriguez), it was the first time she was in that role.
“It was a lot of firsts, but we were able to find our way and figure it out.”
In Game 4, two straight kills from Soto gave the Cardinals the lead from the outset. Southside’s Tyler Bolton (7 assists, 5 digs, 3 aces) served back-to-back aces for a 10-5 lead. A back-row kill by the 5-foot Gallardo made it 16-8 in Game 4.
“Alyssa is my leader on the court. She and Analee have some of the best court awareness I’ve seen,” Coach Soto said, referring to Gallardo and libero Analee Uriegas (18 digs). “They’re sophomores, but they play like seniors.”
Two straight aces from Pesina slashed Southside’s lead to 16-11, but that was as close as Highlands came. A block by Soto evened the match at two games apiece.
“Mia made some big plays and had a Happy Birthday,” Anna-Rosa Soto said, referring to a ball left on the net for a kill. “We expect a lot more to come from her.
“Tyler is just a sophomore and its her first year on varsity. She has good court awareness, too, but more than that, it’s her relationship with her hitters. She works well with them.”
Before Game 5, Mitchan talked to Owls setter Analisa Garza (18 assists) about her availability.
“I told her, ‘If it’s a good pass, go to me,’ ” said Mitchan, who added 1.5 blocks. “Let’s get this kill. I put a lot of effort into my swing in the offseason. I wanted to make myself better.”
Highlands senior Emily Pearce contributed 18 digs.
“We had our growing pains and immaturity,” Barrientes said. “We want to use all our weapons, but we’ve got to get better at how to use them, and not change our mindset when we get down.”
Despite some first-match jitters that only kicked in when Southside stepped up its passing, nothing that happened in its opener endangered Highlands’ status as the clearcut favorite in District 28-5A.
“We’re going to get off to a phenomenal start and take it all the way to district,” Mitchan vowed. “I think we went into the season more confident. We’ve been working very hard.”