ORANGE—The Aptos High girls’ volleyball team made a big splash on Saturday night and continued to shake up the world, as the legendary Muhammad Ali once did.
The No. 7 Mariners pulled off another stunning upset, this time against top-seeded Nordhoff High in four sets, 25-12, 25-17, 26-28, 25-21, in the CIF State Division IV championship match at Santiago Canyon College.
Aptos senior Peyton Dueck had 20 kills and scored the match-winning point to help the Mariners capture its first state championship in program history.
“It’s indescribable,” Dueck said. “We’re so excited for each other and so proud of each other, we’ve all worked so hard.”
The Mariners’ front line signaled “tipped” and pleaded to the referee’s for the point, which was ultimately given to them.
It was Aptos’ first appearance in a state final since the 1992 team that lost in straight sets to Newport Harbor.
Aptos had a large section of fans cheering for them, which included Mount Madonna junior Savannah Cambell and other players who were fresh off its D-V state championship Friday night.
Senior Gabby Giuffre had six kills and was at a loss of words after the win.
“It’s insane,” she said. “We all know how important it is but it will set in in a couple of days and it’s going to be like, ‘We really just did that.’”
Giuffre also mentioned they’ll finally get to see a banner go up inside the school gym with their names on it. She said it was an amazing run, especially during a stretch where they became road warriors.
They went into the NorCal playoffs and won their opener against No. 10 Union Mine High at home.
From then on, they played the role of the underdogs and won the final four matches on the road. Aptos won the NorCal D-IV championship against No. 5 Tamalpais High.
Giuffre said battling through a tough Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League prepared them for the long road, including their trip to Orange.
“I think it testifies to a lot of the other teams in Santa Cruz as well,” Giuffre said. “It shows how strong and how competitive the area is around us.”
Saturday’s victory was part of a storybook finish to the NorCal playoffs and state final. Aptos (23-15) finished third in the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League and fell to co-league champ Soquel High in the league tournament.
They also lost in the Central Coast Section D-III final against Burlingame High in four sets.
But the Mariners won their final five matches, only dropping two sets throughout the CIF playoffs.
Aptos coach Lake Merchen said it seemed like they improved after each match. He said many teams like to find their peak at the end of the season and remain there going into the postseason.
“For us it was we found a peak but what’s our next peak,” Merchen said. “For the girls to set in and set out for every single match and improve every single game, that’s what impressed me the most.”
Dueck added 19 digs, while senior Sophia Williford added 11 digs. Sophomore Emma Yeaman contributed 12 digs for the Mariners.
Freshman Jordyn Waite-Ward had eight kills and senior Natalia Ackerman contributed six kills. Senior Brynn Mitchell had seven kills. Senior Alana Patyk-Randa led the Mariners with 37 assists and she also had two kills.
“I wanted to make sure I kept my composure so I could help people get their head in the game,” Patyk-Randa said. “I really wanted to make sure I was one of those role models on the court, keeping my cool and making sure to stay confident in my setting.”
The Mariners won the first set with ease and continued to roll in the second by recording 15 kills and .387 shooting percentage.
The Rangers kept things interesting in the third set. Dueck picked up a hat trick to give Aptos a 23-20 lead and move the team within reach of its first state title.
But Nordhoff fought back with a string of points and forced a fourth set. Both teams exchanged the lead six times in the third set.
The Rangers continued to keep Aptos on the ropes in the fourth, yet, they were never able to take the lead.
“Today, we just kept going up and they just kept getting better,” Merchen said. “When (Nordhoff) started to push us, we pushed back. We responded really well.”
Editor’s Note: This article will be published in the Nov. 27 edition of The Pajaronian.