Huntington Beach, Calif. – “Maybe you should try stopping her. Maybe you’d have a chance at winning.”
The comment from the stands was barely audible over the heckling, chanting crowd Friday night, but it was nonetheless present in each attendee of Golden West College’s packed gymnasium’s mind. Irvine Valley outside hitter Chelsea Pavlik was just that – unstoppable – and with her on the court, the Rustlers found themselves without just that – a chance.
The No. 1 player on the No. 1 team in California accumulated a school-record 31 kills in the conference match to lead the Lasers in a 3-1 comeback win that advanced their flawless start to 16-0 (9-0).
“She’s not a secret,” said assistant coach Jay Hosack. “Chelsea is known as, arguably, the best player in the conference, the MVP. Everyone focuses on her, and she still performs. That speaks volumes about her and her abilities.”
Pavlik’s ability to perform was matched only by her team’s ability to focus despite distractions of the raging Southern California fires.
The Lasers, who came off a week of cancelled and relocated practices, emotional rides, and personal effects, managed to set it all aside in the 28-30, 31-29, 31-29, 30-27 victory.
“It’s real easy for us to be able to go, ‘there’s our excuse,'” Hosack said. “They just gutted it out. They were not going to let a ball drop without somebody being there. All year, that’s been their moniker, and I’m super proud of them.”
Thirty minutes into the match, the odds continued to stack against IVC as Golden West edged out a 30-28 victory. For only the third time this season, the Lasers found themselves in a 1-0 hole.
Like the previous two matches, the Lasers rebounded from an opening-game deficit. Despite watching its 25-19 lead dwindle to a 28-28 tie, IVC kept its focus and gutted out the 31-29 victory courtesy of two kills by Pavlik.
“With all the distractions going on, I was proud of them for being able to put it all out there,” said Irvine Valley assistant coach Ki Yi.
Golden West narrowly led the majority of game three, but the Lasers never allowed their deficit to surpass four. Back-to-back kills by Jessica Flood gave IVC a tie at 24 and the one-point lead that propelled the 6-2 run to nearly closed the game out, 29-26.
Flood finished with 17 kills and eight blocks.
The Rustlers pounded out three consecutive points before falling again to Pavlik, who fired a kill in the left corner to end a two minute rally and give the Lasers the game point yet again. Irvine finished off the 31-29 win after a Golden West hitting error to grab a 2-1 lead.
Pavlik complimented her record-breaking 31 kills with 21 digs.
“[Chelsea] could be the best player we’ve ever had,” Yi said.
IVC’s momentum from the lead-gaining game three shifted into game four. The Lasers opened with a 5-1 run, courtesy of three kills by Pavlik, an ace by setter Kelly Keating, who finished with 58 assists, and a kill by freshman Marilena Guadagnini. Irvine never relinquished the lead.
The Lasers will look to keep their undefeated streak alive Wednesday, Oct. 31, when they host Riverside (6-9, 2-7) at 6 p.m.