SOQUEL — Aptos High head coach Ashley Tennant took a good, long look at her girls as they sat in the visitor’s locker room after Tuesday night’s Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League loss to Soquel High.

A couple girls were hanging their heads but the vast majority of her team was still bubbly and upbeat, reminding the rest of the team that there’s still plenty of season left.

“I definitely didn’t think we looked defeated as a whole,” Tennant said. “If we really looked defeated, those bubbly personalities would’ve not been OK.”

The Mariners are not out of it yet but they are definitely in a hole for the rest of the league season after the 25-20, 25-18, 18-25, 25-19 loss to the loaded Knights. The loss not only dropped the four-time defending SCCAL champs into second place in the league standings but also dashed an impressive 30-match win streak against league opponents in the regular season, which dated back to 2015.

Soquel (7-2, 3-0) had lost to Aptos (2-6, 2-1) six times over the last two seasons, with two defeats coming in the Central Coast Section playoffs, but this time the Knights were too good, too big and too experienced for the Mariners to handle.

“I think this is our year,” said Soquel head coach Jeanine Haldi. “Our league has teams that have spurts, they have strong players, one or two, but I have kids that are all-around players.”

Namely, powerful outside hitters Maggie Walters and Sam Strah, who are arguably the two best players in the SCCAL this season.

Walters, a senior and the league’s reigning Player of the Year, and Strah, a sophomore and an All-SCCAL selection last season, combined for 41 kills, 44 digs and four aces and made their presence felt in key moments throughout the match, including an important 5-0 run in the heart of the final set with the capacity crowd roaring.

Sophomore setter Sam Werdmuller also helped the Knights’ cause with 27 assists and seven digs, while freshman middle blocker Renee Parker surprised with 5 blocks and a few big kills throughout.

“We have the best players in the league on my team and I try to incorporate everyone around them,” Haldi said. “It’s pretty hard not to win with those two on the court at the same time.”

Aptos found a different gear in the third set and also benefited from multiple unforced Soquel errors. The Mariners jumped out to a 5-1 lead behind senior middle blocker Braelynn Westjohn’s attacks and a 7-0 run a few point later made the set a no-contest.

The victory built some serious momentum heading into the fourth but Soquel was back to its dominant self from the jump, leading 5-1 early before holding off an Aptos charge midway through the set to finally exact its revenge from prior defeats, including last year’s five-set heartbreaker in the league tournament championship.

“It means a lot to them especially with it being homecoming week, and being in our gym, and being Aptos,” Haldi said. “Last year, it was hard. We had two match points on them and we couldn’t finish it. It’s a big one for us.”

Aptos junior outside hitter Jillian Rodriguez led the way with 10 kills and Westjohn added five but the rest of the Mariners’ offensive weapons were mostly silent, forcing Tennant’s team to depend on its defense. Freshman libero Peyton Dueck and sophomore defensive specialist Cam Dueck kept Aptos afloat with their catlike reflexes and precise passing — the duo finished with a combined 29 digs — but the Mariners never quite found the rhythm which led them to the CCS Division III championship match last year.

The Mariners don’t have much time to lick their wounds with a trip to Harbor High scheduled for Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

The rematch with Soquel at Aptos scheduled for Oct. 12, however, will loom large over the next three weeks.

“We have to make sure we’re living in the present and not thinking about the future,” Tennant said.

The Mariners, of course, went through a major offensive transition in the offseason with the graduation of two-time league M.V.P. Elise Coash and senior outside hitter Ari Rodriguez. Tennant said her team is still trying to find its offensive identity, as three players shared the setting duties on Tuesday night. She said it all starts in practice.

“I think that we brought a higher level into this gym, energy wise, than we have to any other gym this season, just because of the heightened amount of the game,” Tennant said. “But when that’s not practiced every day, you can’t just turn it on. That’s what, as a coaching staff, we’re trying to communicate to them.”

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