Down 7-5 in the final set against Marin Catholic, Sacred Heart Cathedral senior defensive specialist Ashley Chan went up along the far side of the net, and came down hard on her right ankle.
With tears in her eyes, she was carried off the court by teammates Skylar Canady and Megan Lenn. It was the low point of a tough night for the Irish.
In a likely preview of a November postseason matchup, Sacred Heart Cathedral fell 3-1 (26-24, 23-25, 18-25, 20-25) to the Wildcats. After a tight first two sets, the Irish put up little fight as Marin Catholic powered to a season-opening win thanks to 6-foot-5, Loyola Marymount-bound Kari Geissberger.
“Losses are never fun,” said Sacred Heart Cathedral head coach Margi Beima, who is still sitting on 483 career wins. “You can learn a lot from them. It’s whether you decide to bounce back from some adversity and learn from it, which we will.”
The Irish came into the evening ranked No. 1 in Northern California and No. 6 in the state, having beaten rival St. Ignatius to win the Open Division Central Coast Section title last season. The Wildcats — who fell in the regional semifinals of the state tournament — came in as the No. 9 team in the state.
UCLA-bound Skylar Canady got off to a slow start, with just 10 kills on the night, as the Irish’s passing wasn’t quite up to snuff, but UC Davis-bound senior Megan Lenn took the lead, turning in an all-around virtuoso performance, highlighted by 17 kills despite feeling some first-match nervous jitters. Her fifth kill of the night put Sacred Heart Cathedral up, 25-24, and she followed that up by tallying one of the few blocks on Geissberger for the set win.
Lenn started the second set off with a block, two kills and an ace before a Leah LaBoy kill and a Grace Olivia ace tipped the momentum in favor of the Wildcats. The two NorCal stalwarts traded leads back and forth, before Marin Catholic got up 17-14 as a Lenn tip-over came up short. The Irish got to within one and stayed there, but Geissberger kept the Wildcats on top, with two key momeum-halting kills. A Lenn kill swing was blocked by a pair of Marin Catholic defenders for the 25-23 win.
“Megan has been a starter since her sophomore year, and she’s been a star for us as much as Skylar,” Beima said.
Geissberger got five kills during a 10-3 run to start the third set. Over the final two sets, she utilized a variety of swings, tips and bumps to keep Sacred Heart Cathedral off balance. Over the final two sets, Geissberger recorded 16 of her 29 kills, including the set-winner into Chan’s chest in the third.
“Her contact point is so high,” Beima said. “They put the ball really high for her, so she just makes high contact. It’s a different trajectory than what we’re used to seeing.”
“You just don’t know what she’s going to do,” Lenn said. “She’s so tall, and she can hit over the block, so you don’t know if she’s going to tip or hit it deep or just hit it right in your face.”
After Chan went down, Lenn tallied a pair of aces before Geissberger tallied five quick kills to put the Wildcats up 17-13. The Irish never again got closer than three points.
“Our servicing broke down a little bit,” Beima said.
“I think we lost energy a little bit,” Lenn said.
Sacred Heart Cathedral’s biggest fault on the night was passing. Normally averaging 30 passes per set, the Irish had just 55 total passes over four against Marin Catholic.
“Some things, you just don’t see in practice,” Beima said. “You need to face different hitters. Kids get comfortable against themselves in practice, so it’s good.”
Next up for the Irish is the Spikefest on Aug. 31, followed by a road non-league match against University on Sept. 3.
In other local volleyball action, St. Ignatius swept University 3-0 (25-19, 25-21, 25-16). Lick-Wilmerding swept Balboa 3-0 (25-22, 25-17, 26-24) after themselves being swept by Lowell on Tuesday.