The descriptions kept coming — incredible, unbelievable, phenomenal, fantastic, fabulous, pure happiness.
What Palm Springs High School volleyball coach Gary Wilhoite just witnessed was an amazing feat by his team and he said it was difficult to express.
He reeled off his words one by one, just like his volleyball team did with their blocks, digs and kills when their backs were against the wall. So after his 15 years at the helm and seven semifinals appearances, Wilhoite summed it up by saying his small and mighty Indians played “the best volleyball match I’ve ever been part of.”
Well, how about one more?
After Palm Springs captured an incredible five-game, nail-biting CIF semifinal match on the road at Arcadia, the Indians are playing in their first-ever CIF title game Saturday. Palm Springs takes on No. 2 Windward for the Div. II-A championship.
“We don’t match up well in the front line, but if we do what we do and be athletic and cover everything we’ll do just great,” said Wilhoite. “I love our chances. If we be who we are, we’ll be fine. We’re on house money right now. No one expected it with this team — and that’s what we got, a team — and they’ve exceeded everything.”
On Saturday at Cerritos College in Norwalk, the Indians face a team that has been there.
Palm Springs battles the private Los Angeles-based school that has appeared in the past two finals in Division III-AA. The Wildcats were elevated to Division II-A this year and have not missed a beat.
Their four seniors are powerful, led by Harvard-bound all-CIF middle blocker Christine Cornelius. In 64 sets, she’s compiled 243 kills, 35 aces and 186 digs. Outside hitter Tae-Leon Butler boasts a team-high 45 blocks with a 92 percent serve percentage along with 123 digs. Setter Sophie Taylor (23 aces), Erin Davis (37 blocks) and Alex Sagian (176 digs) are the other key performers.
As a team, the Wildcats post 12 kills per set, 14 digs with 2.1 aces. They combined for 119 blocks and 128 service aces.
The Indians also post 12 team kills per set, 19 digs, 3.4 aces and counters with Asia O’Neil’s 261 kills and 60 aces, Hannah Wright’s 56 blocks and Mary Lake’s 355 digs and 565 assists.
“They’re really tall, big girls but we’re gonna go after the ball and do whatever we can to get it done,” said O’Neil.
Senior Kaylie Edgar added that Palm Springs is up for the challenge. This team continues to rise to the occasion.
“We know that Windward has swept almost all their games, but that doesn’t scare us,” she said. “We’ve been to five and we know how that feels.”
Wilhoite pointed out that the Indians must maintain that steady balanced attack in order to stay with and wear down the Wildcats. That pure will was displayed in that jaw-dropping fifth game comeback against Arcadia after starting in an 0-7 hole.
“Our goal is to balance the ebbs and flows and have less of the super highs and super lows,” said Wilhoite. “I just want them to go out and play every point possible.”
And senior Michaela Hissam says Palm Springs has more to give.
“We know we could have played better (against Arcadia), but we’ve got way more left,” she said.
CIF Division II-A final
Who: Palm Springs Indians (25-5) vs. Windward Wildcats (24-4)
CIF rank: Palm Springs No. 8; Windward No. 2
Game info: 10 a.m. start at Cerritos College in Norwalk
Tickets: $12 at venue; $5 students with ID; children 5-13 $5
Of note: The only other Desert Valley League team to advance to the CIF title game was La Quinta in 2007 (lost to Village Christian). Last desert-area team to win a CIF title was Desert Christian Academy in 2011, a 3-2 win against Sierra Canyon in Division V.
Palm Springs lineup
Seniors: Michaela Hissam, Carisa Becerra, Kaylie Edgar, Sarah White
Juniors: Mary Lake, Asia O’Neil, Ashtyn Lyneis, Sasha Sedigh
Sophomores: Hannah Wright, Linden Conrad-Marut, Angelina Pinkney
Mary Lake: Last year everyone told us after we lost in semis, that was our year to win it all, you went far, but that was our last chance. No one had faith in us this year. It’s crazy we made finals. People never expected us to make the finals.
Ashtyn Lyneis: It’s amazing that we’re making so much history in the school. There’s been so many amazing players who have gone though this school, so many D1 players that haven’t made it this far. It’s a good feeling to make history.
Michaela Hissam: Making it to CIF Finals in my final year is what makes me so excited for the game. It’s my last year and that’s what’s so exciting.
Kaylie Edgar: This is my third time in the semis and we told Gary that the third time’s the charm. And then it was Gary’s seventh time in the semis and it was lucky seven for us, so it’s exciting.
Asia O’Neil: After our last DVL game against CC, I told coach that I had a feeling. I said DVL went by so fast and now playoffs and I had a good feeling in my heart about it.
Carisa Becerra: Being out (injured) at the beginning of the season wanted me to fight harder for it. Seeing them grow as a team made me strive to get back on their level. Now that we have a chance to win CIF, it made me open my eyes to see that we are even stronger than I predicted.
Road to the championship
PALM SPRINGS def. Walnut, 25-12, 25-12, 25-10; def. La Habra 26-24, 25-10, 25-14; def. Louisville 25-21, 25-18, 25-22; def. Arcadia 16-25, 25-22, 25-21, 24-26, 20-18.
WINDWARD def. Anaheim Western 25-13, 25-23, 25-7; def. Bonita 19-25, 25-9, 25-16, 25-21; def. Burbank 25-15, 25-16, 25-14; def. Fullerton Troy 25-21, 25-16, 25-21