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Highlanders Rally to Upset St. Joseph


It would be too easy to say that La Habra upset top-seeded Lakewood St. Joseph with a little Burdine intervention.

Sure, La Habra's USC-bound senior Keao Burdine had 33 kills and 23 digs to help the Highlanders rally for an improbable and stirring 7-15, 6-15, 15-10, 15-4, 17-15 victory in the Southern Section Division II-A girls' volleyball final Saturday at Cypress College.

But staring at that two-games-to-none deficit, La Habra also found some inspiration from a little history.

Two years ago, La Habra trailed St. Joseph by the same deficit but pulled out a section championship. In that 1998 Division II-A final, La Habra stormed back to win, 13-15, 14-16, 15-10, 15-11, 15-5.

"I looked at Keao, Jenny [Habben] and Lauren [Goins] and said, 'We've been here before,' " La Habra Coach Troy Abbey said. " 'Remember what happened.'

"We did not play good volleyball in the first two games, but I knew we could come back if we played how we're capable of playing. We did that in the third game."

La Habra (21-1) steadied itself to win the third game, kept the momentum by trouncing St. Joseph (22-4) in the fourth, then capped it by winning a wild fifth game in which each team had a match point.

St. Joseph's Melissa Courtney, who will play at Colorado State next season, had six of her 25 kills in the fifth game, but she also had an uncharacteristic nine hitting errors.

Burdine had 12 of her kills in the fifth game, and in the final three games, she had 23 kills and hit .500.

So it was no secret who was getting the ball in crunch time, right?

"I kept yelling at Maggie [Williams, La Habra's setter] to just give it to me," Burdine said.

But when La Habra blew a 14-12 lead and St. Joseph moved ahead 15-14, who got the ball when the Highlanders faced match point? Sophomore Kristina Baum.

Baum calmly put away a spike from the right side for her 11th kill. The 6-foot-2 middle blocker had four of her nine blocks in the fifth game, helping the Highlanders erase a 12-6 deficit before she set the stage for Burdine.

Some tougher serving and poor St. Joseph passing gave La Habra three more opportunities for points, and Burdine delivered on each occasion, sending a spike off the top of the block on match point to spark the celebratory dogpile.

"This one is sweeter because everyone didn't believe in us," Abbey said. "Everyone thought St. Joseph would roll right through us."

St. Joseph came into the match as the second-ranked team in the state Division II poll and shared the Serra League title with Mater Dei, the ninth-ranked team in the state.

And the Jesters carved up La Habra in the first two games, winning them in 45 minutes. Courtney had seven kills in the second game and had the Jesters in apparent cruise control. That turned out to be the problem.

"We let up and sat back in the third game," Courtney said, "and we let it go five. It's really frustrating. You could say we folded, but we've won five-game matches this year.

"We just didn't execute when we should have."

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