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ONTARIO — Ontario Christian girls volleyball coach Paige Liebhart expected the Knights’ opponent, San Clemente to play better after the second set.

She was right. Unfortunately for Liebhart, Ontario Christian didn’t have an answer.

San Clemente shook off the slow start and rallied for a 15-25, 21-25, 25-11, 25-13, 15-10 victory Thursday night in a CIF Southern Section Division 2 first round match

San Clemente (23-9), which finished with a share of the South Coast League title, advances to play at Cypress in the second round Saturday. Ambassador League champion Ontario Christian sees its season end with a 26-12 record.

“It was tough not having Lily (Dwinell) in the first set. Then it took her a set to get going,” Tritons coach Casey Swenson said.

Dwinell, a senior outside hitter, missed the first set because of an issue with her uniform, Swenson said.

“She warmed up, then she lined up without her uniform,” Liebhart said. “She was clearly healthy enough to warm up. You could see they were uncomfortable in the first set without their regular lineup.”

When San Clemente jumped out to a 12-3 lead in the third set, Swenson felt better. But he knew that merely winning one set was only the start of the comeback.

“The fourth set is where the heavy lifting is,” he said.

Liebhart was disappointed in how her team responded in the third and fourth sets as San Clemente’s front line that included Dwinell, senior Hannah Eberle and sophomore Pyper Nelson proved to be a difficult block to work around. Ontario Christian is of comparable size to most opponents, but San Clemente was noticeably taller.

“The fifth was at least a little tighter mentally,” Liebhart said. “The third and the fourth are where we have to continue to grow as people.

“We’re afraid to admit how good we are. We’re talked about as the smallest Division 1/2 school. I love my kids and sometimes they take that to heart. They think they’re not good enough and they are.”

Blown out in the third and the fourth sets, Ontario Christian responded in the fifth. Falling behind early 4-0, the Knights rallied to tie the score 5-5 and were still within striking distance before San Clemente won four of the final five points.

Senior Rian Hobbs led Ontario Christian with 19 kills, while senior Madison Baker added 10 kills and junior transfer Marlee Arrington finished with seven kills. Senior Mia Medrano had 26 digs and senior Brooklyn Goedhart had 36 assists and five aces for the Knights.

Goedhart’s serving keyed several runs for the Knights in the first two sets.

Goedhart was disappointed because she felt her team deserved a higher ranking. The team was much better at the end of the season once Arrington became eligible October 1.

“We only had about two weeks to show how good we were,” Liebhart said.

While losing nine seniors off of the playoff roster, Liebhart is optimistic about the future.

“We have a lot of people who contributed last year for us that got a bench role this year (and will be back next year),” Liebhart said. “Our JV team had a great year. I’m looking forward to that.”

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