It wasn’t USA Hockey beating Russia in the 1980 Olympics. Or Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson. Or even 16-seed UMBC knocking off No. 1 Virginia in the NCAA.
But throughout Shasta’s 25-14, 27-25, 26-24 volleyball sweep of previously unbeaten Foothill on Thursday in a four-team postseason tournament, some in the crowd might’ve been thinking “Do you believe in miracles?”
Especially given that Foothill’s junior varsity squad had, no joke, beaten the Wolves’ varsity unit on April 1 after the majority of the Cougars’ squad was out of action due to COVID tracing.
So, Thursday’s match, on paper, looked to be a coronation of an unbeaten season for Foothill in a battle of two teams with championship history over the past decade.
“I knew it was going to be a fight, but I didn’t expect it to be like this,” said Shasta senior Britney Blomquist.
In fact, the Wolves stormed out of the gate and grabbed the momentum from the start with a lineup featuring two freshman starters.
“They came and played out of their minds,” Foothill coach Pablo Lana said. “We weren’t really ready for that.”
And “that” was freshman Amiah Cornejo, who was starting in place of junior Trinity Hudson who was sick.
“We were concentrating on stopping No. 11 (Blomquist) on the other side,” Lana said. “Well, they went over there (to Cornejo) and were really successful.”
The freshman, one of two ninth-grade hitters for the Wolves, started the match off with a kill off a Blomquist set and added two more kills in the first six points. Cornejo set Elle Weaver, the other freshman swinger, to put Shasta up 6-3 before Blomquist and Weaver teamed up, followed immediately by three aces from Cornejo as the visitors silenced the sparse crowd up 10-3 early.
“Cornejo, she got the start and had her biggest game of the season,” Shasta coach Todd Taylor said. “She does it in practice, but always had a junior or senior starter in front of her, so this was her big opportunity to start and yes, she exploded.”
With Cornejo opposite of Blomquist in that rotation, the Cougars had to pick a side to double block and Shasta found the open hitters. Cornejo and Blomquist each had three kills in the opening set, while Weaver led the way with four, including the set winner off an assist from Rondi Elo. Cornejo had eight kills, Weaver pounded a game-high 15 kills and Blomquist added seven kills and 19 assists.
“Amiah was amazing,” Blomquist said. “She was swinging high hands and over the block, which was different than what they were used to. She was getting over their block and that’s why she was successful.”
During the first set win, Shasta’s floor and bench were vocal, while Foothill’s side had a quiet, almost stunned look, something that carried over to the second set.
Foothill got an opening-point ace from Teagan Richards, but it was short-lived at the Wolves reeled off seven straight with a combination of Cornejo kills, Foothill hitting errors and capped by a Kayla Price block.
A Maddy Frick kill staunched the run as Shasta worked up to a 17-10 lead before Foothill’s senior hitter came alive. Trailing 20-17, Frick pounded two back-row kills sandwiched around a point where the ball dropped on miscommunication on Shasta’s side to put the set at 20-19, Shasta. Frick finished with 14 kills and Richards had 15 assists.
The Cougars would pull square at 24-all on a Amber Wallace and Grace McQuoid’s block of Cornejo, before a a service error would knot the set at 25. But the Wolves eked out the win as Blomquist found Weaver down the left side for a kill and Trinity Hess put back a long return for the set winner and a 2-0 lead.
Lana said not being able to square the match at 1-set apiece was huge.
“When you’re down 0-2, you feel like it’s an uphill battle and even if you get three there’s still a lot of work,” he said. “Our girls came back and fought (in the second set). Our girls had the lead and the momentum and they came back and took it.”
But Foothill didn’t go unbeaten in the shortened season because they folded up shop when faced with adversity. In fact, the Cougars came out in the third set and grabbed the lead early as Frick had four early kills as the hosts went up 7-5.
But Blomquist said something they talked about in practice Wednesday resonated during the match.
“We talked about how we had nothing to lose,” she said. “We knew we were the underdogs coming in, but we were going to come in and fight.”
Shasta knotted the score at 11 on a net violation before Frick reeled off three straight kills to seize the momentum as Foothill built a 20-13 lead.
But the Wolves methodically chipped away, catching a break trailing 23-16 when the Cougars were called for a net violation. Instead of heading to set point, the game was 23-17. A Shasta ace, a Foothill hitting error and double-block by Price and Sarah Arel pulled Shasta within three at 23-20.
Blomquist’s service error gave Foothill set point, but the Wolves had one final burst of magic.
With Alexa Helman serving, Blomquist found Cornejo and Weaver in succession before a Foothill hitting error pulled Shasta within one as 24-23. The Shasta senior then hooked up with Weaver for three straight kills to finish the six-point run and end the match.
“We were in a good rotation,” Taylor said. “Alexa has served well for us all year. That many in a row is really tough to do, especially facing set point. Elle getting all those balls at the end was huge, but we were in the right rotation at that moment.”