APTOS — Chloe Manor opened up Tuesday night’s match with a blistering serve that zoomed over the net, ricocheted off an opponent and landed out of bounds.
It was a sign of things to come.
From the first point to the last, Manor and the Aptos High Mariners dominated the Harbor High Pirates to the tune of a 25-16, 25-9, 25-15 sweep to pull into a tie for first place in the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League with three games to go.
“It felt really good,” Manor, a junior setter, said of her serve. “I was really happy with it.”
The Mariners (9-7, 9-2) had plenty to be happy about.
Their defense was airtight, their offense was humming and their bench and crowd were rowdy.
Junior outside hitter Jillian Rodriguez had 10 kills, senior middles Abbi Saxton and Braelynn Westjohn combined for eight kills and four blocks and Manor made the offense go with four aces and 15 assists.
The Mariners were all in agreement, Tuesday was far and away the best overall performance they had put together all season.
“All the pieces kind of fell in place tonight,” Saxton said. “Everything went the way we wanted it to go. It was a really clean game. A really clean performance.”
And it came at the right time.
After losing to Soquel High and Harbor (14-8, 9-2) on the road during the first go-around of the SCCAL season, the Mariners needed to piece together a perfect season the rest of the way in order to stay alive in the league title chase.
Since then, they’ve won seven straight SCCAL contests, including an important five-set victory over Soquel on Thursday. Three more wins would clinch at least a share of their fifth straight league championship with Harbor, which is looking for its third title in the last four seasons.
“Our whole team was really pumped up because we knew that this game meant a lot,” said Aptos senior opposite Lauren Picone. “I think that we executed really well as a team.”
Manor’s opening serve set the tone of what would be a near-perfect night for Aptos. The Mariners cruised to a pair of easy victories in the first and second sets thanks to several defensive-powered runs in each set.
Harbor, which had won eight straight before Tuesday night, had a 2-0 lead to start the final set but Rodriguez hammered down a kill to get Aptos on the board and spark a Mariners’ 9-2 run. They never looked back, as Harbor struggled limiting its errors and containing the multi-headed Aptos attack, which looked like it had finally hit its stride after struggling earlier in the season.
For Harbor, Tessa Kalafut had five kills and four blocks and Pearl Biddle made 10 assists but it wasn’t enough to offset an uncharacteristically sloppy night for the Pirates, who also control their own destiny with three games left to play in SCCAL action.
The Mariners also didn’t cut them much slack by putting on a stellar performance.
“The girls just have a different confidence about them at this point of the season,” said Aptos assistant coach Maddie Young. “Our middles are getting the confidence to swing away and our setters feel good about setting them, too.”
Aptos finishes off its league season with games at San Lorenzo Valley (Thursday) and Mt. Madonna (Oct. 24) before hosting senior night against Scotts Valley High (Oct. 26).
“We have to continue to bring the same energy,” Saxton said. “It doesn’t matter what opponent we play. It’s always just about Aptos volleyball and not worry about who we’re playing. Really bringing passion on the floor. That’s how we’ll finish off our league season strong.”