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Warrior spikers win Southern California Volleyball Invitational

Four days after learning they were in the Southern California Volleyball Invitational tournament, Fallbrook High School’s girls volleyball team won the tournament.

The Warriors won all eight matches they played in the October 17-18 tournament and prevailed in 16 of 19 games.

In the finals the Warriors defeated Christian, who had eliminated Fallbrook in a previous tournament, and the first elimination match saw the Warriors defeat Westview, the winners of the past two CIF Division II championships.

The tournament also saw Fallbrook senior Sha’Dere McNeal earn Most Valuable Player honors, and Fallbrook senior Erica Wilson was also selected to the all-tournament team.

“That was pretty intense in some ways,” said Fallbrook coach Peter Peng.

Teams are allowed to play in up to three tournaments, and initially the Warriors had only two on their schedule.

Peng, who replaced Galen Tomlinson as the Warriors’ coach this year, tried to fill Fallbrook’s tournament allowance by seeking a slot in the Southern California Volleyball Invitational, which is hosted by Granite Hills High School and played at Granite Hills and San Diego Christian College.

The Warriors were given standby status, enabling them to enter the tournament if another team withdrew.

On October 13 Peng received the call that a position in the tournament was available.

Because the Warriors hadn’t planned to play that weekend, some players had other commitments.

“I had to make sure I had enough players,” Peng said.

Peng did not require the players to cancel other commitments, although a couple of girls were able to make alternate arrangements for previous Saturday plans and Fallbrook was able to field a full team for the tournament on both days.

The confirmation that the Warriors would be in the tournament was provided October 14, three days before the start of the tournament.

“We got in at the last minute,” Peng said. “I almost changed my mind about entering that tournament, but we needed matches.”

The Warriors had three pool play matches October 17 at the San Diego Christian College gym, which is also used by Christian High School. (Meridian Christian Elementary School and Shadow Mountain Community Church are also co-located on the campus facility.)

Fallbrook began pool play with a 25-10, 25-22 win over Calexico and then took a 25-22, 25-10 victory over Helix.

The final game of pool play was against San Pasqual, which is not only an Avocado League opponent but was also once coached by Peng.

“Played them three times this year. That’s great,” said Peng, whose Warriors defeated the Golden Eagles in all three of those matches.

The tournament match went to the full three games. Fallbrook earned a 25-23 triumph in the first game, but the Golden Eagles evened the match with a 25-18 victory.

Fallbrook prevailed by a 15-10 score to win the third game and the match.

The Warriors had also swept their pool play matches in their previous two tournaments, winning all first-day matches at the San Diego Fall Classic and at the Scripps Ranch Tournament.

In both of the previous two tournaments, Fallbrook lost in the first elimination play match; Carlsbad eliminated Fallbrook in three games to advance to the semifinals of the San Diego Fall Classic and Christian’s 25-13, 25-19 victory ended Fallbrook’s participation in the Scripps Ranch Tournament.

“We’re great the first day,” Peng said.

If Fallbrook had struggled during the second day of the Southern California Volleyball Invitational, there would have been a valid reason.

The Warriors, who had nine players from their 16-girl roster available for the Friday matches, fielded a team of seven players for the Saturday play.

McNeal and junior Marley Marin were Fallbrook’s outside hitters, Wilson and junior Leigh Lawrence played the middle blocker positions, senior Lauren Goodell was Fallbrook’s setter, junior Haley Hartzell took opposite hitter duties, and sophomore Suzi Mellano was a defensive specialist as well as a backup outside hitter.

Goodell and Hartzell are normally backup setters while Mellano has spent most of the season as a backup outside hitter.

Peng noted that three of the starters were seniors. “That really helped,” he said.

The second day, which for Fallbrook also took place at the San Diego Christian College gym, began with a seeding match.

Fallbrook faced Brawley and defeated the Wildcats in three games. Brawley’s 25-23 triumph in the first game was countered by a 25-17 Warrior victory in the subsequent contest.

In the third and deciding game the Warriors prevailed by a 15-7 score.

“We’re a very good defensive team,” Peng said of winning the third game.

Fallbrook took 25-20 and 25-12 victories against the Wolverines to open elimination play.

“They’re a really good ball control team,” Peng said of Westview. “We just had too much firepower for them.”

The quarterfinals pitted the Warriors against Steele Canyon, and Fallbrook advanced to the semifinals after 25-17 and 25-20 wins over the Cougars.

The successful match put Fallbrook against Valhalla in the semifinal competition.

“That was our toughest test,” Peng said. “They’re a very balanced team.”

The Norsemen won the first game by a 28-26 overscore. The second game also produced an overscore with Fallbrook on the top end of the 26-24 result.

“It was going both ways,” Peng said.

Fallbrook won the third game by a 15-6 margin.

“All it takes is a few good serves,” Peng said. “We had some great target serving.”

Fallbrook scored several points while Hartzell was serving. “It’s not necessary to get an ace. It’s more important to put them on the defensive,” Peng said. “A great target serving team can put a lot of pressure on one particular person.”

Peng felt that Christian’s victory over Fallbrook in the Scripps Ranch Tournament was due to the Patriots’ ability to defend against the Warrior attacks.

In the Southern California Volleyball Invitational, McNeal had 11 kills in 16 attempts with no hitting errors as the Warriors won 25-16 and 25-14 contests.

Although Goodell was not selected to the all-tournament team, Peng considered her to be a major factor in the Warriors’ tournament championship.

“She contributes a lot because she’s really good at bringing the team together,” Peng said.

Peng also called for credit to be given to assistant coach Chloe Thomas, who is responsible for the team’s conditioning.

“Seven girls, five matches, and we were still going,” Peng said. “It had to be conditioning.”

In addition to playing eight matches in two days, the Warriors returned from El Cajon after 10 p.m. Friday night and left for the Saturday matches at 6 a.m.

The Warriors, who had lost to La Costa Canyon in the match prior to the tournament, then won three consecutive league matches to bring their winning streak to 11 matches.

Fallbrook had entered the tournament with an 8-10 overall record.

“That pretty much changed our season,” Peng said of the tournament championship.

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