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Woodlake rolls into SoCal volleyball semis


12:00 AM, Nov. 21, 2012 EST

Woodlake's Melissa Samaniego jumps up for a kill between two Laguna Blanca defenders during a Division IV Southern Calfiornia Regional Division IV match on Tuesday in Woodlake. / Ken Weisenberger

WOODLAKE — 

The players on the Woodlake High School volleyball team were having a tough time describing the magical run the team has been on this season.

Woodlake went 10-0 as it won a second straight East Sequoia League championship and it went 26-4 as it won the Central Section Division IV title.

After the No. 3-seeded Tigers defeated No. 6 Laguna Blanca in the first round of the Southern California Regional playoffs on Tuesday, sophomore KiAnna Cunningham found the words to describe her team's play.

"We played awesome. We're beast mode," Cunningham said.

The Tigers were exactly that as they swept the Santa Barbara-based team in straight sets 25-19, 25-21, 25-15.

Woodlake will advance to the Southern California Regional semifinals, where it will play No. 2 Saddleback Valley Christian at 7 p.m. Saturday in San Juan Capistrano.

Woodlake coach Tori Johnson said she could sense the nerves in her team before the match so she took the players outside and gave them a pre-game pep talk.

The Tigers were experiencing their first SoCal Regional game and didn't know what kind of competition to expect. Johnson made it clear to her players that it didn't matter who they were playing.

"We have to go into every game knowing we have to play our game," Johnson said. "We have to take the other team out of their system. It doesn't matter who they are. It is about our team playing Tiger volleyball."

The Tigers were sharp from the very beginning of the match.

They jumped out to a 12-4 lead in the first set and cruised to a 25-19 win, which was capped by a Melissa Samaniego tip.

Laguna Blanca made the second set much more competitive, but Woodlake ran off six of the final seven points to win 25-21.

The third set was all Woodlake as it jumped out to another 12-4 lead. Cunningham and Brenda Acosta combined on a block on the final point to put an exclamation mark on the win.

"I definitely thought we'd have more of a challenge," Woodlake's Regina Ramirez said. "I thought they would raise the bar, but we pulled it together and it was easier than we thought."

Ramirez finished with six kills, three aces and two blocks to help lead the Tigers. She received plenty of help from Samaniego and her 15 kills and five blocks, Cunningham added nine kills and six blocks and Acosta finished with 29 assists.

"I feel it is the mindset the girls go in with that makes us successful," Johnson said. "They're focused on going one game at a time. They know the journey for this team is not over. Each game is a stepping stone for what they're working for."

 

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