If Irvine Valley was to lose one match this season, none would have been less desirable or predictable than the Southern California Regional Final on Nov. 24.
The Lasers were 22-0. College of the Canyons had been an easy non-conference sweep three months prior.
However, the only thing that stood between the No. 1 team in the state and a ticket to the state tournament in Fresno proved to be the only team that had both the ability and shock value enough to do it, as the ninth-seeded Cougars gutted out 26-30, 20-30, 30-15, 30-17, 13-15 wins to end IVC’s perfect season in Hart Gymnasium.
“I am bummed that we don’t get to move on to state, but I am more bummed that we don’t get to practice tomorrow together,” said assistant coach Jay Hosack. “That is the hardest part.”
The Cougars, who advanced to the finals with a three-game shocker over Orange Coast College four days before, was quick to take control of the game one. Led by all-Southern California selection Priscilla Bremer, they allowed the Lasers to hold no more than a one-point advantage before pulling ahead, 14-10, and carrying their narrow lead to a 30-26 finish.
IVC responded by jumping out to a 4-1 lead to start game two, but fell to a Cougars surge and into a 2-0 hole.
“We had our chances tonight, but Canyons put us on our heals and then made the plays when they needed to,” said coach Tom Pestolesi.
Facing the end of their season, the Lasers regained their spark. Led by outside hitter Chelsea Pavlik, who hammered out five of her match-high 31 kills in the opening 8-3 rally, the Lasers picked up momentum and sailed to the 30-15 win in game three.
“All year long we have told these girls that they have heart,” Hosack said. “They could have easily folded after those first two games, but didn’t.”
After the Lasers completed their comeback with a 30-17 game four victory, they dove into a point-by-point battle in game five.
While the Lasers never led in the final game, momentum repeatedly swaped from one side to the other.
After the Cougars surged to a 4-1 lead, IVC bounced back to tie it at seven. When COC pulled a 4-0 run to jump ahead, 11-7, the Lasers responded with a rally to knot the game at 13.
But IVC ran out of comeback chances come the final two points, as the visitors sealed their upset with back-to-back kills by Bremer.
“I think we have the most heart in the state, even if we aren’t going to be playing in the finals,” said Marilena Guadagnini, who finished with 12 kills, 13 digs and two aces. “I think that heart got us here and showed who we are.”
While the season won’t be remembered by a banner, numbers such as the program-high 22 wins and Pavlik’s record-setting 494 kills in a season, speak loud enough.
“This is the team that can say they’ve done things that no other team at Irvine has ever done,” Yi said. “The next time we have a team like this, the comments are going to be, ‘oh yeah, you guys are just like that 2007 team. You play with a lot of heart.’ That’s the legacy they get to leave behind.”