Oh, how quickly momentum can change.
Three games into Tuesday night's CIF Southern Section Division 4 semifinal match the Windward School boys volleyball team seemed poised to put away the visiting Cathedral Phantoms once and for all and punch its ticket to Saturday's championship match.
However, the white-and-purple clad Phantoms had other ideas, stunning the noisy crowd at Lewis Jackson Memorial Center by rallying to take the final two sets and the best-of-five set match, 25-17, 13-25, 19-25, 25-16, 15-7.
"Our ball control wasn't as solid and we made more errors the last two sets," Windward Coach Michelle McGuire said. "Also, there were fewer double blocks, there were more one-on-ones and they were winning those points."
It wasn't a case of Windward looking past its opponent towards a possible rematch with defending champion Santa Monica, which eliminated the Wildcats in the semifinals last year. In fact, McGuire said her team was hoping for another crack at Cathedral, which edged the Wildcats in five games (15-13 in Game 5) back in April when Windward was missing three starters.
"We didn't look past them at all, in fact this is the team we wanted to play in the semis," McGuire said. "This is a special group of players. Chase Pion, Peter Gutman, Gabe Schuman and Ryan Manoogian have been with me since they were freshmen. Still, if we're doing things right we don't rebuild, we reload."
Cathedral will play Santa Monica in the finals Saturday at Cypress College. It's been a Cinderella season for the top-seeded Phantoms (24-6), who had never advanced beyond the second round of the CIF playoffs prior to this season.
"We didn't change anything going into the match from the first time we played them," Cathedral Coach Michael Godoy said. "After the third set I told our guys to look to the outside more because they were bunching the middle and once we did that, it opened the middle up later."
Windward took an early 5-4 lead in the fifth set, but the Phantoms won five of the next six points to take a 10-6 advantage. A hit off the block, a joust and a stuff block quickly made the tally 14-7 and Cathedral closed out the match on the next serve.
"Our errors and their crowd is what did it," said Windward's sophomore hitter Drew Pion, who had played libero in the Wildcats' prior playoff matches while working his way back to full strength after an injury. "Their offense is quick so it's tough to get to the pin on them, but still we made way too many errors."
Windward led 12-11 in the opening set before Cathedral used a 9-2 run to go ahead 19-13. Hitter Alejandro Albarran ended the set with a spike. Windward broke open the second set with an 8-0 run to take a commanding 22-9 lead before Manoogian showed why he was the Alpha League's Most Valuable Player last spring by hammering a kill through two Cathedral blockers to level the match at one set apiece.
The third set was tight throughout but Windward forged a 21-19 before reeling off four points in a row. However, the Phantoms began their furious comeback by jumping out to a 17-12 lead to seize the momentum and they won set four on Manoogian's hit over the back line.
"We've been playing pretty error-free lately, but they're a good team and I'll give them credit," said Chase Pion, the Wildcats' captain and setter who earned a Jefferson Scholarship to the University of Virginia. "My best friends are all on this team and I see them at practice day in and day out, so I'm going to miss playing with them and my brother [Drew]."
CIF-SS DIVISION 4 VOLLEYBALL SEMIFINALS
Set Scores 1 2 3 4 5 -- Final
Cathedral 25 13 19 25 15 -- 3
Windward 17 25 25 16 7 -- 2
Records: Cathedral 26-4; Windward 14-4.