WOODLAND HILLS — El Camino Real volleyball Coach Lori Chandler shook her head in bemused amazement.
"I still don't believe it," she said.
Her team's 15-9, 12-15, 5-15, 15-13, 15-6 comeback victory over Chatsworth to clinch the Northwest Valley Conference championship did stretch credibility.
Trailing two games to one and down, 13-4, in the fourth game, the Conquistadores (12-0, 9-0 in conference play) looked flatter than the Valley floor. Chatsworth (7-2 in conference play) was taking the league leaders apart and was poised to tie El Camino Real for the conference lead.
"We thought we were going to wrap it up," Chatsworth Coach Steve Berk said. "I think we were thinking about victory."
Strangely enough, so was Conquistadore standout Jessica Dinaberg.
"Actually, it was kind of weird," Dinaberg said. "I still didn't think we were going to lose. Me, personally, I was ready to come back and win."
Until that stage in the match, Dinaberg hadn't been her usual dominating self. She committed several hitting errors and did not pass particularly well. Her teammates mirrored her play, passing abysmally and allowing Erica Mertes (13 kills), Nicole Smith (11 kills) and Nicole Snell to shred their defense.
But Dinaberg started the surprising and decisive 11-0 run by registering a kill to give El Camino Real a sideout. She ended it with a kill to give the Conquistadores a 14-13 lead and closed out the game with a service ace.
During the Conquistadores' rally, Samantha Small served seven consecutive points and Shira Winitzky served three more in a row, including an ace. El Camino Real's defensive effort also intensified.
"I told the kids, 'If we can block a few balls, and dig a few balls, the offense will take care of itself,' " Chandler said. "But who knew?"
The final game was one-sided, as Chatsworth appeared to still be in shock and Dinaberg raised her play to a higher level. The 6-foot senior had eight kills and a service ace to cap a 22-kill, four-ace performance.
El Camino Real's resurgence coincided with Dinaberg's, which was no coincidence--and a fact that Chandler has come to rely on.
"When we needed her, she's always been there," Chandler said. "I don't know what to say--she's fantastic all the way around, that kid."