Twelve months ago, the Thousand Oaks High girls' volleyball team couldn't wait for the season to end. The Lancers were the joke of the Marmonte League, and deservedly so, based on the team's dismal 1-11 record at year's end.
Just one season later, however, the Lancers are the champions of the Southern Section 2-A Division. Now the team is hoping the season never ends.
In a comeback as improbable as the team's recent turnaround, Thousand Oaks rallied from a two-game deficit Saturday, shocking Atascadero, 10-15, 10-15, 15-10, 15-11, 15-3, in the Southern Section final at Marina High in Newport Beach.
Nobody in the stands was laughing. The Lancers will now move on to regional CIF competition, aiming toward the state championship.
It looked as though the Lancers' first-year Coach Ron Beick would finish as an also-ran again. Beick's teams at University placed second in the City Section final four times.
But Thousand Oaks came back in the third game. With Atascadero just five points from victory at 10-9, the Lancers reeled off six straight behind the serves of Jamie Heggen and two spikes by Julie Chellevold, who finished with 27 kills.
Beick said the catalyst for the Lancers was junior Shireen Campbell, who came into the match late in the second game. Campbell finished with five kills, two blocks and two aces, but the Lancer coach gave her more credit than what her statistics showed.
"She definitely was the star of the day," Beick said. "She had been out injured for four weeks, and tonight she just played fabulous. She and Kristen McIntyre really keyed it."
The Lancers took a 7-5 lead in the fourth game after Heggen recorded a service ace. Moments later, the Lancers went up, 10-5, when McIntyre blocked three Greyhound shots for Lancer scores.
Atascadero fought back to tie the game at 11-11, but Thousand Oaks put the game away on three kills by Chellevold.
Now, just one game away from the championship but months from the memory of last season's debacle, the Lancers embarrassed Atascadero in the fifth and deciding game, taking a 13-2 lead before the Greyhounds finished themselves off, missing on their two final shots and giving Thousand Oaks its first Southern Section championship.
For Beick, who an hour earlier seemed destined for yet another second-place finish, the win seemed almost surprising.
"This is absolutely the other end of the scale for me," Beick said. "It hasn't sunk in yet. It will probably take all of us a couple of days to realize what just happened."
Nordhoff def. Calabasas, 15-6, 15-4, 15-4--The Southern Section may have to find yet another division for Nordhoff of Ojai. Because of two successive Southern Section titles at the 2-A level, the Rangers were elevated to 3-A this season.
Even so, Nordhoff finished a perfect season at 16-0 by defeating an overmatched Calabasas. Shannon Firebaugh had nine kills for Nordhoff.
Brentwood def. Campbell Hall, 13-15, 15-2, 16-14, 15-4--Campbell Hall, which had just two losses all year entering the playoffs, lost for the third time to the same team. Cherise Smith had nine kills for Campbell Hall. Kelly Sather had 15 kills for Brentwood.