Titans capture their first CCS volleyball crown in 43 years

Russo's 27 kills paces sixth-seeded Gunn to sweep of top-seed Los Gatos

The Gunn girls volleyball team won its first Central Coast Section title in 43 years with a three-set sweep of top-seeded Los Gatos. Photo by Butch Garcia.

Gunn girls volleyball coach Baiba McGibben said she uses her captains, seniors Rachel Grant and Odeya Russo, “everywhere.”

“It's my strategy,” McGibben added. “They play any position.”

Russo and Grant were a dynamic 1-2 punch on Saturday, powering the Titans to the Central Coast Section Division I title with a 25-18, 29-27, 25-22 sweep of top-seed Los Gatos on Gunn's hardwood.

It was the second section volleyball title for Gunn (19-17), the other coming in 1976. Gunn was section runner-up in 1980 but went on to win a regional crown that season. Fremont of Sunnyvale, coached by former Stanford women's volleyball coach John Dunning, was the CCS titlist in '80.

This is quite an achievement for McGibben, who took over the program just last season.

“We had an amazing team last year,” said McGibben, who was playing for the Latvian National team in 1980. “The difference between last year and this year was that this year's team believed it could win CCS.”

“I love our coach,” said Russo of McGibben. “She's very tough on us, but she loves us a lot. She pushes us to go to our maximum.”

The Wildcats (26-8) took both meetings during Santa Clara Valley Athletic League De Anza Division play, though the match in Los Gatos went five sets.

“Gunn was a lot more relaxed and more composed this time,” Los Gatos coach Oscar Crespo said. “They handled the ball really well, they passed and served, nicely. We made errors, we jumped into leads throughout. We're super young on the outside and super young in the libero spot.”

The Wildcats, behind Eily Lane, Milena Pesic and Ella Weider, had a 9-6 lead in Game 1, a 12-5 bulge in the pivotal Game 2 and a 12-10 edge in Game 3.

Game 2 was one for the annals as the Titans pulled themselves up off the hardwood to steal one. One of 13 kills by Grant tied the set 17-all as Crespo signaled timeout. A block by Jessie Carter put the Titans up 21-19.

At 22-apiece, Russo, who had a whopping 27 kills (not her season high though) delivered back-to-back steaming kills, the Titans at game-point up two. Successive double-hit violations on the Titans, however, forced McGibben to stop play to talk it over.

A kill by Russo from the back row gave the Titans a 27-26 lead. Grant's kill got them to set point before an errant hit by the Wildcats ended the set.

Gunn had yeoman work from sophomore libero Micaela Leong, who had 16 digs.

“It was a matter of wanting it more,” said Leong, who ended Game 1 with an ace. “We wanted to come out and do our best. We put everything we had into it.”

Titans setter Ana Dubois chalked up 38 assists. Livia Bednarz was strong at the service line for the Titans as it was all-hands-on-deck.

“It hasn't sunken in, yet,” Russo said. “We played better than we did last time. We had a lot more energy this time. We came together, played like a team and really fought for it.”

The Gunn fans had one cheer and stuck to it throughout: “Let's go, Gunn!”

The Titans are, indeed, going to the NorCal playoffs with pairings to be announced Sunday evening.

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12 people like this
Posted by Tom DuBois
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 10, 2019 at 7:36 am

Tom DuBois is a registered user.

It’s been so much fun to watch this team this season. They’ve steadily gotten better and figured out how to leverage their strengths as a team. More importantly they are just a really nice group of young women who get along and enjoy playing together. Congratulations to the team and their coach!

10 people like this
Posted by NowhereMan
a resident of another community
on Nov 10, 2019 at 9:13 am

Very nice article, and congratulations to Gunn! I'm from Los Gatos and, although not a parent of any of the players (I only have 1 kid still in high school, and he runs track at LG), my wife and I attended a lot of girls volleyball games this year. I'm impressed with how much Gunn improved late in the season, and I don't think anybody could have beat them yesterday. Los Gatos did make a few crucial errors, but overall it seems to me that LG played well. They just ran into a team that was in peak form at just the right time of the year. As the LG coach mentioned, the team was really young this year, and they should be strong for the next few years. I'm guessing this will be the start of a heated rivalry between LG and Gunn...

6 people like this
Posted by Mary Jane
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 10, 2019 at 6:25 pm

Congrats Gunn Titans! This is amazing! I was on the team 1985-87 when Los Altos High dominated volleyball and it's great to see you guys pull this off!

2 people like this
Posted by Yes!
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 11, 2019 at 2:02 pm

Way to go! Keep it up as you go to the state playoffs

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