Words like “amazing” and “awesome” and “proud” flowed freely at South Pas High School on Tuesday night, and why shouldn’t they have?
The gritty, resilient girls volleyball Tigers are regional champions of SoCal Division 3 for the first time in school history — and this Saturday they can go even further, with a chance to add a state title to their already memorable 2019.
Before a capacity crowd at South Pas High, the Tigers on Tuesday recorded a dominating 3-1 divisional-final victory over Palm Desert to secure their SoCal Division 3 title. The win came just three days after the Tigers survived a nail-biting 3-2 win over Linfield Christian in Saturday’s regional semifinal, also at South Pas.
Now the Tigers will represent all of Southern California as they face Lowell High of San Francisco, the Northern California Division 3 champion. The game will be at Santiago Canyon College in Orange on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
When it was over Tuesday, the South Pas crowd stormed the court while the Tigers erupted in joyous celebration.
“It feels amazing. I can’t even describe how I feel. It’s so awesome,’’ said junior Lindsey Hirano. “I’m so happy, not only for myself or the team, but also for the school too. It’s so great.”
Head coach Ivy Chew ran onto the court to celebrate with the players.
“I’m a super-proud coach because these girls really turned it around by keeping up the mentality and switching gears when they needed to,’’ said Chew.
“They really capitalized at the times we needed them to. Even though we lost that third set, nothing is perfect. We’re going to have to learn from those mistakes, and that’s what makes us a better team. At the end of the day, they fought for it and it’s going up to who is more consistent, and my girls definitely did that.’’
Chew’s assistant coach, Lexis Evans, is always on the sideline motivating the girls, and she said all the team’s hard work has definitely paid off.
“It’s a beautiful thing,’’ Evans said.
“We’ve been working on stuff for months, and so being able to see them in crunch situations pull through, take the deep breaths that I’ve been talking about, or focusing on the zone, it just really shows they’re dedicated and wanting to pursue this win no matter who is on the court against them, or no matter who they are on the court with.’’
The Tigers came out blazing Tuesday. With the entire gym behind them, South Pas won the first set 25-10. The momentum continued and South Pasadena dominated in the second set to secure a 25-18 win.
The third set was competitive, and the Aztecs weren’t giving up. They caught South Pas off guard on a few occasions and were able to steal the third set 25-16.
The Tigers began the fourth set with a small run to get a lead going and get the crowd back into the game. It was a back-and-forth battle, with neither team leading by more than three points — but in the end, South Pas finished strong and won the final set 25-22 to take home the championship.
Cue the crowd storming the court.
“I don’t know if our school has had any team go this far, so it’s so amazing to represent our school this way,’’ Hirano said.
“And it’s just amazing because it’s just redemption for CIF. It’s so special — it’s such an honor to be the last team [to play on this court] and to end on such a great note.”
Hirano was referring to the Tigers heart-breaking loss, to Norco, in the CIF Southern Section Division 4 semifinals. After that defeat, the Tigers regrouped and took aim at the state tournament — a quest the team has dubbed its “redemption tour.”
Now here they are, on the cusp of a state crown.
Contractors renovating the South Pas gymnasium were supposed to put up fencing and begin construction on Monday, but the construction was pushed back to accommodate the game on Tuesday, and it was well worth it.
“We have a lot of fans coming out from different cities, and we had teams from our league that came out to support us,” Chew said.
“This game wasn’t just playing for us but playing for the community, and the fact that they extended the construction just for us to play on this court, the girls really showed [their gratitude]. They wanted to win for our school, and I love the fact that the whole community was right behind us for it.”
Tiger star Lola Foord had the old gym in mind when, during Saturday’s comeback win over Linfield Christian, she gave a pep talk to her teammates — one that apparently resonated all the way to Tuesday.
“I was telling [the team] that this is our last time playing in this gym,” said Foord, who verbally committed to Division-I Rice University in August.
“This gym is getting torn down after this, so it’s our last chance to really play here. We’re the last team ever to perform here, so to make sure that we respect that, play with heart, and remind ourselves who we’re playing for and what we’re playing for.”
Meanwhile, preparations for the state-title showdown versus Palm Desert began soon after Tuesday’s win — but Chew and her girls still savored their final moments on the home court.
“Today, they are going to enjoy this game,’’ Chew said Tuesday.
“If we want to represent California the right way, then we have to come back in the gym and get ready for the next competition.”
That comes this Saturday. Stay tuned. More superlatives could be coming.