On Sept. 15, College of the Canyons suffered a hard-fought 3-2 loss to El Camino College, a team they would later meet in the second round the California Community College Athletic Association Women's Volleyball Southern California Regional Playoffs.
In that match, Emily Burns collected an astounding 38 kills, but no other player had more than 10 as the Cougars were not able to find the balance they needed to pull out a tough road victory.
"That's not traditionally how we beat teams this year," COC second year head coach Clay Timmons said. "We beat them with a balanced offense, passing well, and distributing the ball around."
That match became a turning point in the season for the Cougars, who on Saturday night booked a trip to the women's volleyball state championship tournament for just the third time in the program's history by sweeping the same El Camino team in straight sets.
Although Burns still led the way with 15 kills, the Cougars were able to find a better balance both offensively and defensively that proved to be the difference in the match. Caroline Page and Shayla Johnson collected 13 and 11 kills, respectively, while Morgan Ferguson tallied seven blocks. In addition, sophomore setter Rachel Perez handed out 43 assists.
The setting of Perez has been a difference maker all year long for the Cougars, who have regularly suited up between nine and 11 healthy players for each match throughout the season, sometimes playing without a backup setter.
Perez has led a balanced offense to a .281 hitting efficiency while racking up a state-best 1,079 total assists, at an average of 11.01 per set which ranks second in the state.
"Reaching the state tournament means a lot," Ferguson said. "We've gone through so many injuries and I think it's good that we are proving wrong the people that doubted us."
"We've had some injuries to almost everybody, and I definitely thought in my own brain, is this going to be enough, are we going to have enough energy to make it to the state tournament," Timmons said. "But I never saw it in the girls, each one of the players picked up the slack."
Since clinching a berth in the state tournament, the Cougars' practices have been loose yet focused. They know what is at stake and they are looking forward to the challenge.
"We are going to continue to go hard in practice," Johnson said. "This is what we've been preparing for and we are really excited."
The 2017 CCCAA Women's Volleyball State Championship will be held Dec. 1-3 at Solano Community College in Fairfield, Calif. The eight-team, single elimination tourney will include four qualifiers from both the Northern California and Southern California regions.
Canyons (24-5) will be joined by Irvine Valley College (24-0), Mira Costa College (26-6), and San Diego City College (23-3) in representing the south.
Cabrillo College (29-1), Feather River College (26-7), San Joaquin Delta (23-4) and Folsom Lake College (24-4) will represent the northern region.
The Cougars are scheduled to face Feather River at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 2 in opening round tournament action, with that game scheduled to be live streamed via SoCalCollegeSports.com.
A full state championship tournament bracket and schedule can be found here.
Stay up to date on all this season's action by following the College of the Canyons Athletic department on social media at @COCathletics on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.
— Brandon Johnson/COC Sports Information
—Photo credit Jesse Muñoz/COC Sports Information