Hamilton head volleyball coach Sharon Vanis told her team ahead of the 6A Conference state championship that in order to win, they had to establish momentum early on in the match.
Her players responded. The second-ranked Huskies got off to a hot start against the top seed Sandra Day O’Connor Eagles, utilizing the power from outside hitters Jordan Middleton and Micah Gryniewicz while also playing strong defense at the net.
That combination allowed Hamilton to flourish and eventually go on to win the 6A title for the second straight year in four sets over the Eagles – 26-24, 25-22, 25-27 and 25-20.
“I never felt panicked, even when it was 26-24, I felt we had enough firepower that we were going to come through in the end,” Vanis said. “Sandra Day played great. It feels absolutely great.”
The Huskies managed to jump out to an early lead in the first two sets, but O’Connor responded. The Eagles were at the mercy of the Huskies who had a game point leading 24-19. O’Connor then went on to score five straight points to tie the game at 24.
A timeout allowed Hamilton to settle down and score the next two points to take a 1-0 lead. O’Connor made another late push in the second set with Hamilton again threatening to clinch. But the Huskies didn’t let the Eagles tie again.
The match as a whole went back and forth the entire way through. The two teams traded leads in the third set before strong play from O’Connor’s defense allowed the Eagles to win it. Vanis said for a moment Hamilton’s players began to question themselves because hard-hit balls simply weren’t falling to the floor. O’Connor managed to recover every time.
But Hamilton soon after got back to its basics: feed Middleton and Gyniewicz and play relentless defense at the net with Demya Tate.
“Our trust, chemistry and we knew we could do it,” Gryniewicz said of the reasons her team was successful against O’Connor. “If you know you can do it, it comes easy. We picked each other up after every point because we were that confident.”
Gryniewicz, an Alabama commit, has been playing alongside Middleton since the two were in eighth grade. The two helped strengthen the Hamilton program, leading the Huskies to the 6A title last season as juniors and played a vital role as sophomores the year before.
The two had always dreamed of winning a state title together. And now they have two.
Middleton, a USC commit, said she looks forward to heading off to Los Angeles with the same goal in mind for the Trojan program.
“This means a lot to me,” Middleton said. “Especially so I can tell my college coaches, ‘hey, I came from a state championship, I’m so excited to bring you guys a whole title.’ It’s amazing.”
While Gryniewicz said she always plays with a chip on her shoulder, the Hamilton team came in with a little extra motivation for the title game.
O’Connor was one of just five teams to beat the Huskies this season. The Eagles were one of just two in-state teams to do it. The last meeting in August saw Hamilton leading 2-0 before O’Connor reverse swept the Huskies in five sets.
Leading 2-0 in the match Middleton said that was on the mind of her and her teammates. They wanted to close out the game this time and not give the Eagles a chance.
“We knew we couldn’t let this happen again, we do not want it to repeat,” Middleton said. “We knew we had to dial in and get the next set.”
The win was the second-ever state title for the Huskies, who have played in several other championship games under Vanis before.
This year’s team was as battle-tested as the rest, if not more, having competed in national tournaments against some of the top teams in the country. In October the Huskies hosted the Geico Volleyball Invitational where they made it to the championship match against top-ranked Marymount. They fell 3-1 but Vanis said it was yet another learning opportunity for her players.
She hoped back then a tough match against a team of that caliber would help propel the Huskies to another state title. That came to fruition Saturday at Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum.
“This feels just as good as the first one,” Vanis said. “It’s special. This is just about the same group as last time. I know how hard they work so it’s pretty special.”