Natalie Zimits looks around the Sacred Heart Prep Gym and sees all the championship volleyball banners, representing 14 Central Coast Section titles. The senior middle blocker would like this year's team to add a banner of their own.
The Gators can do just that Saturday when they take on Monte Vista Christian for the CCS Division IV championship at Independence High in San Jose at 4:30 p.m.
“This is a special team,” Zimits said. “We all get along so well and have great team chemistry. It shows on the court. We've talked about having our own banner but our main goal is proving people wrong.”
The Gators (24-10) survived a grueling schedule, featuring 10 matches against six teams in the Open Division, including both finalists, because they trusted each other and because they used losses as learning opportunities.
“After we lost to Menlo the first time, we came out of that thinking we can beat anyone,” Zimits said. “We wanted to go to the Open Division but we fell short. Our focus is on our opportunity to take CCS Division IV.”
Sacred Heart Prep won 11 of 15 following the loss to the Knights, sharing the duties up and down the lineup. Junior outside hitter Cate Desler had 19 kills and leads the team with at 3.6 kills per set, followed by Zimits at 2.6.
Sammy Phillips (1.8), Ally Polverari (1.8) and Elena Radeff (1.3) are also among the team leaders. Zimits hits a team best .353, with Desler hitting .319.
“I'm very proud of the girls,” Gators coach Allison Magner said. “Every one of them has made a contribution. I feel humbled to be their coach. There's a complete synergy that you can feel. We have five seniors who truly carry the team with their leadership.”
In addition to Phillips and Zimits, Rachel Cheung and Alexa Thomson added their serving kills and Annie Bair added her defense to the mix.
Junior libero Caroline Caruso leads Sacred Heart Prep with 279 digs, with Haley Martella over 200 and Bair, Celia Charlton (who recorded her first kill of the season against Half Moon Bay), Cheung, Thomson and Desler all with over 100.
Serving made a big difference for the Gators, not only for the dozen or so aces but also for accuracy and consistency.
Phillips and Desler were key from the service line in game four, both with long runs.
The last three points of game three were kills from Desler, Zimits and Charlton.
Castilleja saw its season end in the semifinals Wednesday, as the sixth-seeded Gators dropped a 25-12, 25-14, 25-17 decision to No. 2 seed Notre Dame-Salinas at Thomas More.
The Gators (20-14) enjoyed a turnaround season. A year after finishing 6-23, Castilleja rallied behind a strong, seven-member senior class that included Elle Kass, Gwen Cushing and Ashley Hu.
Castilleja started the year with five consecutive losses, extending a losing streak of 14 dating to last year, and finished winning six of its last seven.
The Gators will return seven players, including sophomores Alexis Stull and Selina Zhang.
Other seniors included Sam Gerber, Madison McClellan, Alexandra Whittle and Megan Carter.