With every point won, every spike put down and every ace serve it became more clear which team was in control during Saturday afternoon's Los Angeles City Section Division II girls volleyball championship match.
Palisades High School, the section's winningest program, will add a ball to its City championship banner, the fourth girls title in five years and 27th overall, after its 25-20, 25-11, 25-17 sweep of Woodland Hills Taft at Roybal Learning Center in Los Angeles.
"The first one was the best but this one is the most special because we finally beat Taft, which has been our main rival," said Dolphins senior captain Meghan Middleton, celebrating her third title in her four years on the team. "We saw film of their semifinal and they struggled against Fairfax, which we've beaten twice in league, so we were confident we would win, but I didn't think it would only go three. I'm so happy because one of their players, Tamar Fowler, was on my [Santa Monica Beach Club] team."
The second-seeded Toreadors are the only team to beat Palisades in the playoffs over the last five seasons, upsetting the Dolphins in the Division II semifinals in 2009. On Saturday, however, Palisades jumped out to a 7-1 lead in the first set. Molly Kornfeind's hit off the block gave the Dolphins a 24-16 lead but Taft reeled off four straight before Shanna Scott finally ended it with a spike from the wing.
"We knew where to serve and we pretty much ran our normal offense," Scott said after finishing with seven kills and two aces. "It's exciting to win two years in a row and hopefully next year we can make it three straight."
Kornfeind, who was selected Player of the Year after leading the Dolphins to a sweep of Sun Valley Poly in last season's Division II final, could be so honored again after pounding a match-high 12 kills and adding 20 digs and two aces.
"Venice actually gave us a tougher time [in the semifnals]," said Kornfeind, a junior outside hitter and co-captain with Middleton. "I didn't think it would be this easy but Fowler is their best hitter and she made more mistakes than I expected. This is so great for the seniors. They really deserve this."
Fowler led the Toreadors with eight kills, libero Katty Revelorio had 12 digs and Clare Idehen added six blocks, but Palisades had an answer for everything Taft tried to do.
Any chance the Toreadors had of getting back into the match evaporated under a littany of hitting and ball-handling errors in the second set. The top-seeded Dolphins opened a 15-4 advantage following back-to-back net violations and consecutive kills by Jamie Kaufman. Kornfeind's crosscourt spike brought Palisades within a point of a two-set lead and, after a Fowler put-away, Taft was whistled for another net violation.
"This [title] means the most because it's my senior year," said libero Maddie Hausberg, who had seven digs on Saturday and said she will just play club in college. "We knew where to put the ball every time. Our serving was strong, especially in the second and third games."
Taft pulled to within 12-7 in the third set before Kornfeind went on a tear that made the outcome inevitable. She ended four of the next five points on spikes and, a few points later, combined with Jenn Norris on a stuff block for a 20-9 lead. The Toreadors saved two match points before an errant serve started the Dolphins dancing.
Middleton had 27 assists, Caroline Grande had 14 digs, Brittany Butts had two aces and Kaufman finished with four kills for Palisades, which swept Venice to win the Division I title in 2007 and took down Granada Hills in four sets to repeat the following season. Coach Chris Forrest, formerly an assistant to Allen Hunt at Venice, has returned the Dolphins to the summit of the City mountain.
"After the semifinals this was just icing on the cake," Forrest said. "I'd be just as happy for Allen if Venice would've won. I knew we could win today because we saw they have trouble controlling the first ball and didn't have enough blockers in three of their rotations. We had the perfect plan and it worked."
Asked which of his four titles with the girls team is his favorite, Forrest had to think a moment before answering: "The first one was bittersweet because that was against Venice. I'd say 2008 was the best because no one expected us to win and it was against the whole City. Last year was sort of a surprise because we got hot at the right time and of course this year we had the revenge factor with Taft."
Shortly after Palisades' Division II triumph the floor was cleared to make room for the Division I final in which second-seeded Granada Hills upset top-seeded El Camino Real in four sets in their West Valley League showdown. Highlanders Coach Tom Harp won the boys crown in the spring when his squad swept Palisades in the final at Venice High.
The season isn't over yet for Palisades, which moves on to the state tournament. Taft Coach Arman Mercado congratulated Forrest outside Roybal's gym and said he hopes for a rematch next season.
"I have no doubt Palisades will be back," Mercado predicted. "Hopefully we will as well. They were too tough today and I'd like them to get a win in the state playoffs."
The Dolphins will host Pasadena La Salle in the opening round of the Southern California Regional Division II bracket at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The Lancers (29-6-1), winners of the Del Rey League, lost to defending champion St. Lucy's of Glendora 25-18, 30-28, 31-29 in the CIF Southern Section Division 2AA final Friday at Cypress College.
Palisades and La Salle share three common opponents: Marlborough, Flintridge Sacred Heart and El Segundo. The Dolphins lost to Marlborough in four sets in a nonleague meeting Sept. 20 while the Lancers swept Marlborough out of its own tournament Oct. 20. La Salle beat Flintridge Sacred Heart in four games Sept. 19 and Palisades was swept by the same team at the Redondo tournament Oct. 29. La Salle swept El Segundo at the Gahr Classic to begin the season while the Dolphins swept the Eagles on the second day of the Redondo tournament.
CITY SECTION PLAYOFFS
Division II Championship
At Roybal Learning Center, L.A.
(2) Taft vs. (1) Palisades
Records: Taft 18-18-3; Palisades 22-12.