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Lakewood St. Joseph players celebrate after defeating Redlands in 5 sets during a CIF Southern Section Division 3 girls volleyball first-round playoff match at Redlands HS gymnasium on Thursday Oct. 20, 2022. (Photo by Milka Soko, Contributing Photographer)
Lakewood St. Joseph players celebrate after defeating Redlands in 5 sets during a CIF Southern Section Division 3 girls volleyball first-round playoff match at Redlands HS gymnasium on Thursday Oct. 20, 2022. (Photo by Milka Soko, Contributing Photographer)
ORG XMIT: fotogod@hotmail.com staffmug06tlpa.jpg
(5-5-2008, Metro, Corona)
PE sports writer Eric-Paul Johnson Monday in Riverside, Calif., May 5, 2008.    (The Press-Enterprise/Terry Pierson)
UPDATED:

REDLANDS — Thursday’s playoff match between the Lakewood Saint Joseph and Redlands girls volleyball teams came down to a race to 15 points in the fifth set. The turning point of the match, however, happened one hour earlier.

Redlands won the opening set with ease and had a 16-7 lead in the second game. Saint Joseph battled back to take that frame, and the Jesters rallied once again and headed home with a 12-25, 25-22, 14-25, 25-22, 15-12 victory in a CIF Southern Section Division 3 playoff opener.

The Jesters (18-11) will host Palomares League champion Glendora (25-4) in a second-round match Saturday.

“It took a lot of discipline on our part and cleaning up the mistakes we were making,” Saint Joseph’s first-year coach Alicia Leamu’u said of the come-from-behind win. “The best matches are fives, and I would not want it any other way.”

It was a disappointing conclusion for Redlands, which won the Citrus Belt League title for the first time since 2006.

Saint Joseph swept Redlands (28-8) in a best-of-three match at the Southern California Invitational earlier this month. Redlands coach Corinne Flowers sais she was surprised Saint Joseph was the first-round opponent for the Terriers.

“When you get to the playoffs, you just never know what is going to happen, but that shocked me,” Flowers said of that draw. “This has been such a great team to coach, It’s just frustrating it has to come to and end, especially in the first round.”

Both teams relied heavily on their primary outside hitter Thursday evening. Julia Tolstova registered a match-high 28 kills to lead the way for Redlands, while Sasha Luzina overcame a sluggish start and finished with 27 kills to lead Saint Joseph.

Tolstova and Luzina both were in the back row during the final moments of the fifth set. Both players took some swings from the back row, but it was Saint Joseph’s ability to get offensive production from other hitters that decided the final outcome.

“I’m not going to lie, I was lighting up a few players about rising to the occasion,” Lemau’u said. “You either go all out or you go home, so make something happen. Sasha did her thing, but I’m happy to see the other players step up at the end.”

The teams traded the first 10 points of the fifth set, but Saint Joseph carved out an 8-5 lead after kills by Emma Faalogo, Luzina and Hadassah Odeyale. Redlands answered with a 3-0 run of its own to tie the score. Luzina’s final kill of the match gave Saint Joseph an 11-10 lead, and the Jesters ultimately closed things out when Odeyale blocked a shot by Saniyah Sobers.

Flowers said Saint Joseph’s defense and passing at the end of the match was a key reason the Jesters pulled out the win.

“I thought we were mixing up our shots pretty well, but we just couldn’t get some of them to fall down,” Flowers said.

Redlands used a 15-5 run to take control of the opening set, and more than half of those points came with Tolstova in the back row. Saint Joseph struggled to get its offense going. The Jesters had eight hitting errors in the set, six by Luzina.

The second set started in similar fashion, with Tolstova and Sobers putting balls away from the left pin and the Terriers going on another run with Tolstova in the back row. Saint Joseph chipped at the deficit, and Luzina’s sixth kill of the set tied the score at 22. The Jesters took the set and leveled the match after Redlands had three straight hitting errors.

“I think it came down to our energy,” said Luzina, a 6-foot-3 foreign exchange student from Russia. “In the first set, we were nervous and shaky. We were much more focused at the end of the second set and that helped us build up some energy.”

Redlands used some strong serving to win the third set. Senior setter Maddie Brown served up three consecutive aces to help the Terriers extend their lead to 15-7. Tolstova had four kills in the set and also had a pair of aces.

The fourth set was the tightest of the match, as neither team led by more than three points. Luzina had three kills in one stretch to help Saint Joseph take a 17-14 lead. The lead changed hands two more times, but the Jesters forced the decisive fifth set following a kills by Odeyale.

Lemau’u previously coached at St. Anthony for 10 seasons and guided that program to a CIF Southern Section title in 2016. Last season, Saint Joseph lost a five-setter to JSerra in the opening round of the Division 3 playoffs.

“It’s feels good to get that first playoff win here, but I am just really happy for these girls,” Lemau’u said. “I know they were disappointed with what happened last year, so I’m proud of the way they battled and found a way to win tonight.”

Julia Reusch had seven kills, a solo block and two block assists for Saint Joseph, and Jones finished with five kills.

Sobers and Brown had 14 and seven kills, respectively, for the Terriers. Kaley Joye had two solo blocks and five block assists for the Terriers.

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