By Jonathan Andrade
For The Signal
The chants in the Santiago Canyon College gym grew louder.
Cardinal faithful hollered from the stands Friday night as the Santa Clarita Christian girls’ volleyball team stormed the court to celebrate a four-set victory over Skyline of Oakland in the CIF State Division V championship.
“I literally yelled at Olivia (Caldwell), ‘Am I dreaming? Did we win?’” said senior Ella Banke of the pandemonium that ensued. “It’s definitely so surreal and so amazing.”
The Cardinals, who finished the season an unblemished 37-0 record, bested Skyline 28-26, 25-15, 18-25, 28-26 to claim Santa Clarita Christian’s first-ever girls state title.
The state crown was the perfect finish (pun intended) to a magical season for the Cardinals, who were so dominant that they only dropped four sets the entire season.
Santa Clarita Christian managed to close out a tightly contested first frame on a fourth set point before easily taking a two-set lead in the second.
The Cardinals sensed victory was near, but Skyline wasn’t going quietly. A rowdy crowd willed life into the Titans, who stormed to a 16-8 advantage before Santa Clarita Christian would snap out of the apparent daze. While the Cardinals were able to narrow the deficit, Skyline would ultimately claim the third set to force a fourth frame.
“We were a little relaxed, and they just came out better than ever,” senior Nevaeh Phillips said of the third set. “We were able to get it together.”
The teams exchanged points and leads in the fourth, staying within four points of each other throughout the frame. With Skyline leading 26-25, Santa Clarita Christian rattled off three straight points to close out the championship bout.
“Rallying to win it in extra points was huge,” said head coach Darcy Brown. “It showed their determination and their grit. I’m super proud of them.”
Phillips powered the Cardinals with a match-high 22 kills. Juniors Hannah Shaffer and Kaysa Brown added 15 and 10 kills, respectively. Banke, Caldwell and junior Bethany Wilson bolstered the attack. Dakota Rappleye and Chaney Brooks contributed on defense.
After players and coaches gleefully posed for photos with their new medals and trophy, the Cardinals were greeted by a cheer tunnel comprised of parents, siblings, classmates and friends. Tears flowed as congratulations filled the air of the cramped gymnasium lobby.
“We really wanted this,” Banke said. “We wanted to prove to not only each other but to our families, our friends, our peers at home that this is what we’ve been working for, for the past two years.”
Banke said the nerves she felt at school earlier in the day from being sent off by a gym full of ecstatic supporters had finally worn off. Gone with it was the self-imposed pressure of capping the perfect season.
These Cardinals are — and always will be remembered as — undefeated state champs.
“Everything on Facebook and Instagram, it just felt like the whole town was behind us,” said Olivia Caldwell, a senior. “Even schools we played earlier in the year wanted to root for us. It showed our community is amazing.”
As the well-traveled Cardinal crowd continued to congratulate the champs in the corridor, Phillips paused to savor the moment.
“I definitely wanted to have the last match be a win, something to remember,” the senior said. “I think this is the best way to end it.”