CHATSWORTH >> After pounding down the final kill, the emotions nearly overwhelmed Vista Murrieta’s Claire Little.
She fell to her knees as her teammates rushed the court. There were tears, cheers and hugs in the on-court delirium.
And the adrenaline was still pumping after Vista Murrieta’s epic 25-20, 20-25, 25-20, 21-25, 19-17 victory Saturday night at top-seeded Sierra Canyon in the Southern California Regional Division I semifinals to advance to the program’s first regional final.
“I don’t know what to say, really. This is the best feeling, and I’m still processing everything,” Little said.
As Vista Murrieta celebrated on the court and posed for a team photo to commemorate the moment, the Sierra Canyon families and supporters came down on the court and formed a handshake line to congratulate Sierra Canyon on a stellar effort, particularly fending off four match points in the fifth set.
“It’s just very emotional,” Sierra Canyon’s Long Beach State-bound Jaylen Jordan said. “This is the best four years of volleyball I could have asked for, and I’m grateful for this experience and this group of girls.
“I love my team. We’re a unit, and we went out fighting, and that’s all I can ask.”
Coach Stefanie Wigfall said Sierra Canyon (36-4) played at a high level all season, making a semifinal run in the elite CIF Southern Section playoffs and advancing to the semifinals of the Division I Regionals.
“This was one of the most phenomenal seasons we’ve had at Sierra, maybe even more than the state title run we had,” Wigfall said. “I honestly think we got outplayed today, but I am so proud that they still gave themselves chances in the end.”
Vista Murrieta (23-11) is the two-time defending Southwestern League champion, but suffered a first-round CIF Southern Section exit last year with a senior-laden team and lost in the second round of the Division 1 playoffs this season.
That has made this regional run that much sweeter, making the most of its second chance as it advances to play in Tuesday’s Regional final at No. 3 La Costa Canyon, a four-set winner over Foothill.
“The bond we have and the love we have for each other, we are not going to let anything stop us,” Vista Murrieta’s Reka Monteleone said. “We all trust each other. When we come together in the huddle, we’re calm. We’re not stressed. And we all want to be that team that everyone remembers for their rest of our lives.”
Jordan put together a tremendous individual effort with 24 kills to try to push her team through to the final.
“Jaylen put the team on her shoulders,” Wigfall said. “We wanted her to know that she’s strong enough to do that, mentally and physically. And that’s what she did.”
Sidney Montgomery added 12 kills, Jaida Tausa’afia Sione added 11 kills and Addison Peeler added four kills, including a pair in the fifth set to keep Sierra Canyon within striking distance.
Sierra Canyon had trouble containing Vista Murrieta’s triple threat of Little (24 kills), Monteleone (18 kills) and Juliette Russell (18 kills).Combined with a stellar defensive effort led by libero Chloe Scheer, Vista Murrieta put it all together against Sierra Canyon.
“Everything was on the line tonight,” Vista Murrieta setter Molly Wilson said. “If we lost, we’d have to walk out of here and our season would be over. We put forth our best effort. On every play. On every point.”
Vista Murrieta led 12-9 and 14-12, but Sierra Canyon forced ties at 14-14, 15-15 and 16-16 and even took a 17-16 lead.But two consecutive Sierra Canyon hits went long, and Vista Murrieta was able to finished off the match with Little.
“We just had to take a deep breath,” Russell said. “We wanted to make history. We keep saying that it’s ring season and to stay hungry, and we are hungry for that championship.”
Vista Murrieta arrived only an hour before the scheduled 6 p.m. start time due to massive traffic.“But it’s going to be a fun ride home,” Scheer said.