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La Canada Was Just What Harvard-Westlake Needed

Volleyball: Wolverines win Division III-AA semifinal, but Spartans give them a challenge.


NORTH HOLLYWOOD — Harvard-Westlake High hoped for a test from somebody--anybody--in the girls' volleyball playoffs.

Not too great of a challenge, mind you, that the Wolverines found themselves in jeopardy of losing, but enough to make them work up a sweat and force them into circle-the-wagons mode.

It didn't look like it at first, but they got that challenge in a 15-2, 15-5, 15-10 victory over La Canada in a Southern Section Division III-AA semifinal Tuesday night at Harvard-Westlake.

After allowing a combined 17 points in their first two playoff matches, the third game against La Canada must have seemed like a three-hour marathon to the top-seeded Wolverines (21-2).

In reality, it was closer to 30 minutes, but it served its purpose. Harvard-Westlake found itself in trouble . . . momentarily, anyway.

Courtney Schultz delivered two kills and three blocks in crunch time to help the Wolverines emerge from a 10-10 tie and into the championship against Bishop Montgomery either Friday or Saturday at Cypress College.

Schultz finished with 18 kills, Karalyn Kuchenbecker had 11 kills and the Wolverines need one victory for their fourth Southern Section title in six years.

"We've been hoping for competition for a while," Kuchenbecker said. "We've been waiting for something like this and it's great to take advantage of it."

Harvard-Westlake had no problem taking advantage of No. 4-seeded La Canada in the first two games by jumping out to leads of 11-0 and 7-1, respectively..

Schultz and Kuchenbecker were almost unstoppable as Harvard-Westlake out-hit, out-served and out-blocked the Spartans (20-3).

But La Canada, led by middle blocker Vanessa Young, who finished with 16 kills, and setter Tracy Neumeier, took an 8-5 lead in the third game.

"The talk in the huddle [before the third game] was, 'Let's go back out there, play the volleyball we're used to playing and not be so scared,' " La Canada Coach Kevin Boyke said. "It was a turning point."

It wasn't enough, however.

Harvard-Westlake didn't go undefeated in the Mission League and win two major tournaments by folding in pressure situations.

Schultz, Kuchenbecker and Terbrie Taylor, who had two late kills, made sure the Wolverines made it to the championship match.

"We need something like that," Harvard-Westlake Coach Jess Quiroz said. "Sometimes you've got to add a little spark under their seats to get them going."

Despite the loss, the Spartans qualified for the state tournament, beginning next week.

Harvard-Westlake, which also qualifies for the state tournament, will be the decisive favorite against Bishop Montgomery.

The Wolverines, who defeated Bishop Montgomery, 15-5, 15-4, 15-2, in a nonleague match, also got a vote of confidence from Boyke.

"You never really know in the finals," he said, "But I believe Harvard-Westlake will win in three."

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