CIF Championship: La Salle, St. Lucy’s meet at 7 tonight.

Our Keith Lair will be live from Cypress tonight to cover all the action in the Division 3AA championship match. Check out the paper Saturday for all the coverage.

By Keith Lair, Staff Writer

St. Lucy’s Priory High School swept La Salle in a nonleague volleyball match on Sept. 23.

When the teams meet again tonight, that relatively easy 25-20, 25-18. 25-15 Regents victory will be far from the thoughts of that warm September evening on the Pasadena campus.

“There will be a big difference,” La Salle coach Tiare Tuitama said. “We’re playing a lot better since the last time we played St. Lucy’s, but the big thing is that we have more confidence and have mentally changed.”

A lot more is at stake than a shake of the hands. It will be played in front of hundreds of fans at Cypress College at 7 p.m. The winner will receive a CIF-Southern Section championship trophy and a guaranteed berth in the CIF State playoffs.

“It will absolutely be a different game,” St. Lucy’s coach Sean Douglas said. “Our girls know that. They are not even thinking about that game.”

Based on that match three months ago, it would hardly seem likely that the two teams would be playing for the Division 3AA championship. When they played in September, the Regents were coming off the division title. La Salle was still, surprisingly, smarting from that three-game semifinal loss to St. Lucy’s last year. Plus, they were still adjusting to Tuitama, who has been with the program since July.

“We were still thinking about that semifinal match from last year,” Tuitama said. “We did not have our rotations down yet either.”

Even though St. Lucy’s swept, Douglas said he saw something in the Lancers.

“You could see it in them,” he recalled. “They just hadn’t clicked.”

Two weeks and four matches later, Tuitama said she began seeing the results. It happened at the Hilltop tournament in Chula Vista, which the Lancers won.

“We just began to play mentally the right way,” she said. “They always had it in them physically, but not mentally.”

La Salle then won the Marlborough tournament the following weekend, and went 8-1 the rest of the season, going undefeated to win the Del Rey League title and losing only six games, including a 3-0 nonleague loss to Notre Dame Academy down the stretch.

“We’ve had a surge of confidence,” Tuitama said. “We’ll be ready this time.”

St. Lucy’s has not lost a five-game match in a month and went 8-2 to win the Sierra League title.

“I’ve told the girls it’s about creating a legacy,” Douglas said. “They can win championships and play very good volleyball.”

Both coaches admit they are very similar. The are both tall with powerful middle blockers. They each have go-to players, but can rely on nearly any player on the floor.

“The key will be defense,” Douglas said. “Whoever plays great defense will prevail.”

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