CARLSBAD >> Throughout the CIF State playoffs, Vista Murrieta girls volleyball coach Ed Taitano has found key moments to give Reka Monteleone and Claire Little some breathers to maintain fresh legs.
That strategy certainly paid off Tuesday evening.
Monteleone and Little combined to record 50 kills, 10 coming in the fifth set, as the Broncos defeated La Costa Canyon 25-20, 21-25, 32-30, 23-25, 15-9 in the Division I regional title match.
Vista Murrieta (24-11) will face Moraga Campolindo for the state title Friday night at Santiago Canyon College in Orange.
The Broncos (24-11) are trying to be the second team from the Southwestern League to capture the Division I title in as many seasons. Temecula Valley claimed the championship last season, becoming the first Riverside County program to win state.
“It’s one of the biggest luxuries we have,” Taitano said of his deep bench. “We watch the girls closely and if they need a break, we know we have plenty of girls who can go in and serve and to play defense.”
The third set was a marathon, as La Costa Canyon had set point six times but could not close things out. Monteleone slammed down her seventh kill of the set to give Vista Murrieta a 31-30 lead, its third set point in the frame, and Bri Bellfi, one of those key defensive specialists, served up the winning ace.
“I think we just came together and found a way to win that set,” said junior setter Molly Wilson, who jammed her finger midway through the third frame but continued to play. “You’re always looking for a little support, and there really is nobody better to provide that than the person standing next to you.”
Vista Murrieta had a 19-17 advantage in the fourth, but La Costa Canyon went on a 5-1 run to grab the lead. Vista Murrieta tied the score at 23, but Taylor Putnam and Sophia Tulino delivered back-to-back kills for La Costa Canyon to force a deciding set.
Rachel Holmberg came up with a big block to open the fifth set for Vists Murrieta. And then Monteleone and Little took over. The dynamic duo traded shots, with Little recording six in the set to finish with 23, and Monteleone adding four more to end with 27.
“I definitely had a lot of energy left at the end of the match,” Monteleone said. “The adrenaline was rushing because we wanted to win this so much.”
Vista Murrieta knocked off the No. 4 seed (Mira Costa), No. 1 seed (Sierra Canyon) and No. 3 seed (La Costa Canyon) in consecutive matches to reach its first state championship match.
“It a goal that we have had since I started here,” Taitano said. “We still have one more stop on this journey. These girls just don’t want this to end.”
Tulino finished with 20 kills and Avry Tatum added 14 more for La Costa Canyon. Juliette Russell had 13 kills and several blocks for Vista Murrieta.