APTOS — The Aptos High girls’ volleyball team kept its perfect record intact in a thrilling match that went the distance.
It took all five sets for the Mariners to defeat San Benito High, 25-18, 25-18, 21-25, 11-25, 15-12, on Tuesday night in non-league play.
Aptos junior outside hitter Peyton Dueck finished with a team-high 21 kills, including a big-time point in the fifth set that kept the Mariners within striking distance late in the game.
“We figured it out, we talked and going into that fifth game we focused on getting just a lot of energy and connecting,” Dueck said. “That was really important in this game.”
Aptos senior middle Gabby Giuffre capped it off with three straight serves to close out the game for the win.
“I think we’re all excited and our heads are screwed on right but we have to learn from it, too, because they got two (games) and they’re a good team,” Giuffre said.
The Mariners are coming off another big win against Salinas High on Aug. 29, which was the first win against the Cowboys in four years.
Aptos clearly kept the momentum going into Tuesday’s game after jumping out to a 2-0 lead after the first two sets.
But getting the win wasn’t an easy task for Dueck and Co.
The Haybalers kept it tight for the most part and had plenty of chances to take over the match. Especially after they took a three-point lead, 14-11, in the second set and forced the Mariners to call a timeout.
San Benito senior outside hitter Nicole Miller said she knows they’re a much better team than the one that showed up against Aptos.
“Our mindsets were just all over the place,” Miller said. “We just had to talk to each other and communication was key for us.”
The Haybalers, who play in the Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan division, regrouped in the third set despite giving up a 5-0 run that allowed Aptos to take a 16-14 lead.
But Miller along with senior middle Roxanne Black and senior libero Francesca Giannotta managed to fight back to tie the match at two games apiece.
San Benito coach Emily Burley said she was proud of the way the team finished after nearly getting swept in Tuesday’s road game.
“I think the first couple of sets were almost a little disappointing,” Burley said. “I didn’t feel like we were playing our best but I was really impressed by the way they came back and pushed through the last couple of sets.”
The Haybalers were in total command of the fourth set and found themselves up by as much as nine points, the biggest lead for either team.
“Obviously I’m not glad we lost but I’m glad it ended the way that it did,” Burley said. “I feel like we ended a lot better than the way that we started…we were much more confident by the end of the game.”
The fifth set was a back-and-forth battle, as both teams exchanged the lead. But the Haybalers ran out of gas as Aptos scored the final four points for the victory.
“They’re a solid team,” said Burley about Aptos High. “They pass well, they have some really strong hitters and they have good defense. They’re a tough serving team, which can really throw you off and break your confidence when you’re shanking ball after ball.”
Aptos senior outside hitter Brynn Mitchell and freshman middle Jordyn Waite-Ward each finished with 10 kills.
Senior setter Alana Patyk-Randa racked up a team-high 47 assists and added 1 and 1/2 blocks for the Mariners (2-0).
Dueck said there was definitely a lack of communication during the game, especially in the team’s serve-receive.
“But once we figured that out we were back on track,” she said.
Aptos coach Lake Merchen said he believes the girls came in confident and he could really see the assertiveness take place during the first set.
“The energy was big, we were making really good plays and kind of carried over what we did against Salinas,” Merchen said.
Merchen said this year’s group is a mix of veterans and young players who are in positions that they’re not comfortable with, yet.
“They’re still trying to feel it out and that’s where you can see the dips,” Merchen said. “Then they hit their stride again, making them a little more confident and that’s where our highs are pretty high.”
Aptos will be tested once again when it travels to Mountain View to play against St. Francis (8-0), which is ranked No. 31 in the state on MaxPreps.
Merchen said setting up the Mariners with tougher opponents during the preseason is a good way to see where the weaknesses are.
“I don’t want to sandbag it at the start and get some easy wins, build some false confidence,” Merchen said. “I want to get them comfortable being uncomfortable right away.”
Dueck said the tougher preseason schedule is also a good way to improve just before the start of Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League play. The Mariners begin league play at Soquel next Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.
“With these hard teams it really prepares us, especially against Soquel,” Dueck said. “We really want to be prepared for league games so challenging ourselves is only going to make us better.”
Editor’s Note: This article will be published in the Sept. 6 edition of The Pajaronian.