WATSONVILLE — Mt. Madonna head coach Erin Mitchell didn’t give a rah-rah speech when her team huddled up down by a point in the fifth set of Saturday’s Central Coast Section Division V championship game.
She didn’t need to.
The girls were plenty motivated and confident already.
“We decided that this was our game,” said Mt. Madonna senior outside hitter Mara Peruzzi. “We (were) taking this game.”
Motivated by the shortcomings of last fall, confident with their backs against the wall and resilient enough to make the plays when they mattered, No. 2 Mt. Madonna outlasted top-seeded Notre Dame-Salinas 25-16, 11-25, 25-17, 27-29, 15-11 to win the program’s third section crown and first since 2009.
Mt. Madonna (16-10) trailed 11-10 in the deciding set, but regrouped during a timeout and pieced together five straight points to capture the CCS title a year after coming up short against Santa Catalina.
“We weren’t going to lose,” said Mitchell, who was on the Hawks’ two previous section champion teams as a player. “We decided that. [The players] decided that.”
A pair of Notre Dame (15-10) errors gave the Hawks the lead, junior defensive specialist Tabitha Hardin-Zollo’s ace supplied a little more breathing room and junior outside hitter Paola Jacobs hammered down the final two points to start the party.
The Hawks morphed into a jumping, screaming, crying mass after the ball hit the hardwood for the final time. Tears were still flowing even after the players had gotten their mitts on the trophy.
“I think it’s so unreal, and I can’t process it all the way,” said Mt. Madonna sophomore setter Savannah Cambell. “We worked so hard to get here, and we’re finally here.”
The hard work started from the first day of practice, as Mt. Madonna returned just half of last year’s section and regional finalist squad and had to replace four seniors with a quartet of freshmen.
Peruzzi, Jacobs, Cambell and junior libero AnMei Dasbach-Prisk — all four returning starters — again led the team in every statistical category, but Mt. Madonna also received help from several others, including freshmen middle blockers Summer Howley and Liana Kitchel.
Having a few dozen rowdy spectators serenading the team with “Let’s-Go-Hawks” chants also didn’t hurt.
“We needed their support and their belief in all of us — on and off the court,” Peruzzi said. “Everyone believing was really crucial to that [win].”
Now the Hawks are hoping that belief can carry over into another deep run in the upcoming California Interscholastic Federation NorCal playoffs.
Mt. Madonna will find out where, when and who it will play on Sunday.
Mitchell said she imagines the Hawks will receive a high seed, and host at least one regional playoff game. They hosted two last fall before hitting the road for the regional final against San Marin in Novato.
A return to a NorCal final, and a state championship game berth are next on the list for Mt. Madonna, which has regional and state banners from 2007 hanging in its gym.
“We’re going all out,” Peruzzi said. “We’re winning state.”
Peruzzi finished with a team-high 23 kills and also made 10 digs. Jacobs chipped in 16 kills, 29 digs and nine aces. Cambell stuffed the stat sheet with 43 assists and 16 digs. And Dasbach-Prisk added 22 digs and three aces.
Everything went right for Mt. Madonna in the first set, as Jacobs pounded the back line with ace serves to help the Hawks cruise to an early lead.
The roles were reversed in the second. Notre Dame senior outside hitter Kennedy McDermott powered a 14-0 run with five aces, and the Spirits ran away with the easy victory to tie the match.
Things evened out over the next two sets.
Peruzzi and Jacobs worked their magic from the outside and back row, and Notre Dame countered with the heavy-handed swings of senior outside hitter Mehgan Amaral, junior middle blocker Logan Riggenbach and McDermott.
Riggenbach led the Spirits with 16 kills, and Amaral finished with 12.
Mt. Madonna benefited from the absence of Riggenbach in the third set. The Spirits’ star collided with a teammate while trying to chase down a loose ball.
Mt. Madonna was up 14-12 when she exited. The lead ballooned to nine while she gathered herself on the sideline.
Back at full strength in the fourth set, Notre Dame refused to give up on its season. The Spirits held off a late Mt. Madonna rally, and finally managed to force the winner-take-all set with a kill from McDermott on its fifth set point.
But the Hawks wouldn’t be denied down the stretch.
“We had a really good pregame meeting and we talked about how this is it — this is what we’ve been working for,” Mitchell said. “If we’re going to go out, let’s go out leaving it all out there. If they beat us, awesome, good for them, but I knew if we put our best game out there, we weren’t going to lose. They trusted themselves.”