Sports doesn’t always need a walkoff home run, halfcourt shot, or 100-yard kickoff return for drama. Sometimes the best moments are in the middle of an event, not the end.
Case in point: the highly engrossing City Section girls volleyball Open Division championship match between Granada Hills Charter and Pacific Palisades at the Roybal Learning Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Nov. 12.
Granada Hills, the top seed, claimed the title in four sets — 25-20, 25-23, 21-25, 25-18 — over the third seed Dolphins. It was the fifth City title for the Highlanders (24-6) in the past nine seasons under Coach Tom Harp. And it prevented Palisades (27-8) — the all-time winningest program in City girls’ volleyball — from claiming its 30th championship.
But the best moments of the match came during the second set. It’s probably where Granada Hills won the match.
The Highlanders had won the first set relatively comfortably. But in the second set both teams battled intensely as if sensing the victor would be in control of the match. They traded thunderous kills and laser serves, made courageous and daring digs, and each passed crisply and on target. The crowd roared on every point, groaned on every out-of-bound hit, and tried to not let the escalating tension become unbearable.
Granada Hills would prevail on a service ace by sophomore libero Courtney Holl.
That second set would remind outside hitter Carissa Bradford afterward of a similar battle earlier in the season against El Camino Real.
“It was crazy,” said Bradford, a sophomore, who finished with 13 kills. “Harp said afterward that was one of the best matches we’ve played. And I honestly think that set rivals it. That set we all came together, we all worked so incredibly hard for every single ball. We talked, we communicated, everything was up. I really think that’s what made the match. That’s what did it for us.”
Senior outside hitter Nicole Deobler, who also had 13 kills on Saturday, agreed.
“I know each team wanted it so, so much,” she said. “They’re an amazing team, and it came down to who was more consistent tonight because of those wills. It was just that hunger to win. And I think we did our job a little more consistently, and that’s why we pulled it out.”
Harp would later note, wryly, that “being up 2-0 is more comfortable than 1-1.” But the Highlanders didn’t close out the match in the third set, in Harp’s mind “it was back to square one” in getting the momentum back.
His players felt differently. They had battle-hardened in winning the ultra-competitive West Valley League. They hadn’t dropped a set in the previous playoff wins against Eagle Rock and El Camino Real. They didn’t believe Palisades would come back from an 0-2 hole and win three consecutive sets.
“They took the third set and fought really hard for it,” Bradford said. “I definitely give them props. But…when we lost that third set, it lit a fire underneath us. It pushed us more, knowing they were going to fight as hard as they were going to, and not roll over. I give props to that team, they put up a really good fight against us.”
Granada Hills restored its equilibrium in the fourth set, and clinched the victory on a kill shot by Bradford. It set off a raucous celebration amongst the Highlanders, whose last City title was in 2013.
“I’ve said this a couple times before: [this season has been] about togetherness,” Deobler said. “In the last two years there wasn’t that togetherness and that chemistry on the court. This year it was a big, big factor in contributing to our success.”
Harp also pointed to the season-long collective unity of the players.
“It’s a true team,” he said. “We didn’t have a lot of drama. They always had great attitudes about cheering for each other. There was nothing fake about it. And it really helped.”
Beating Palisades for the championship was also satisfying to Harp.
“You know the title goes through Palisades. So it’s always extra special to play them.,” he said.