Last Stand

Palisades’ Ally Bierschenk (left) and Jamie Robertson defend at the net against Eagle Rock outside hitter Jade Fuentes. The Eagles won, 25-21, 15-25, 26-24, 25-22, for their first City Open Division title.
Photos by Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

Dolphins Fall to Eagle Rock in Four Sets in City Girls Volleyball Final

By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor

During the medal ceremony after a hardfought and emotional match, Palisades High girls volleyball players, tears streaming down their faces, stood in line and clapped for their opponents on the other side of the net in a display of sportsmanship born out of respect. One year ago, it was the Dolphins who were celebrating their first City Open Division title, this time they watched Eagle Rock do the same after its gutsy 25-21, 15-25, 26-24, 25-22 triumph Saturday night at Birmingham High—the culmination of a magical season in which the Eagles beat the defending champions not once, not twice, but three times… no small feat given Palisades’ championship pedigree. Palisades head coach Carlos Gray embraced Eagle Rock coach Tim Bergeron at the net and congratulated him.

“I told him there is not a more deserving  coach  in our  section,”     

Sophomore Kaia Kanan sets a teammate in the City Open Division championship match. The Dolphins lost in four sets.

     

“Tim coaches all three levels—the frosh/soph, JV and varsity—all by himself and he has one of the most consistent teams in the City. Their strengths played into some of our weaknesses. That’s a good defensive unit and they deserved it.”

For Bergeron, it is fitting that his first upper division title came versus Palisades, the program that has been the gold standard in the City (winning 30 City titles since the sport was sanctioned in 1973) and the one he had never defeated, boys or girls, prior to this season.

“The first varsity match I ever coached in was against Palisades,” he recalled. “I was the JV coach at the time [in 2005] and they were in our pool at the Sylmar Tournament. They were so good that they brought their JV team in the morning. The varsity didn’t show up until the playoffs in the afternoon. Their JV beat our varsity!”

This year marked the first time a West Valley League team was not in the finals of the highest division since Palisades beat Narbonne in 2012. Eagle Rock ended that streak with its epic five-set semifinal victory over Granada Hills, a day after Palisades swept Cleveland to emerge from its half of the eight-team bracket.

Palisades’ Caroline Kedeshian spikes over Eagle Rock middle blocker Charlotte Dillon in last Saturday’s City Open Division final.

Despite being seeded fourth—the same spot they were in a year earlier when they beat Taft in the final—the Dolphins arrived in Lake Balboa confident they could turn the tables on the No. 2-seeded Eagles, who had swept them in pool play at the Chatsworth Invitational in August and rallied from two sets down to win a nonleague meeting at home Oct. 15.

Both teams suffered injuries to key players. Eagle Rock senior Wendy Jurenec tweaked an ankle early in the first set but got it taped  and was back for the second set. Palisades setter Kaia Kanan suffered a knee injury in the third set but played through the pain to finish the match, which ended when the ball landed inches beyond the baseline moments after Dolphins libero Annie Eckert dove to the floor to dig a kill attempt and keep the point alive.   

The match featured a 10-point serving run by Palisades’ Michal Weinberg and many heartstopping rallies, none better than the one ending the third set that lasted 75 seconds and saw the ball cross the net 19 times before a double hit violation put the Eagles up 2-1.

“I’m proud of the players for getting here,” said Gray, who confirmed he’ll be back to coach the girls next fall. “We’re a different team than we were in August.”