Coronado girls volleyball players jumped off the bench and raced onto the court, joining their teammates in celebration while circling around one particular individual.
It was fitting for Kuulei Piena to be in the center of the joy as teammates jumped up and down around her, after the junior outside hitter led the Cougars to their biggest victory of the season Thursday night.
Piena had 18 kills and seven digs to help visiting Coronado to a 25-19, 25-23, 25-23 sweep of rival Green Valley in a showdown for first place in the Southeast League.
“I’ve been talking to them for weeks about playing with emotion and playing with passion,” Coronado coach Matt Johnson said. “Tonight, they came out and decided they were going to put everything they had into this without holding back, and that’s what erupted out onto the court at the end.”
Coronado (23-5, 10-0) opened up a two-match lead on Green Valley (19-9, 8-2) in the Southeast standings with four league matches remaining in the regular season.
“This was a huge match because the winner of this, in my opinion, is probably going to hold on to first place for the rest of the season,” Johnson said. “For seeding purposes, that’s big.”
Green Valley pulled to within 21-20 in the third set before timely kills down the stretch from Shelby Hart and Katie Gamsky helped the Cougars hang on for the win.
After sweating out a 3-2 victory over Green Valley on Sept. 21, Coronado started fast Thursday, jumping to a 20-13 lead in the first set. The Cougars also took early control of the second, sprinting to a 15-6 advantage.
“I think we just kept our intensity up and we just stayed up as a team,” Piena said. “We were all just hyped up; it was really intense. (Sweeping Green Valley) was probably one of our biggest burdens we had on our shoulders, and we just brushed it off.”
Coronado won its eighth straight match, while also snapping the Gators’ five-match win streak.
Gamsky had 23 assists, four digs and three blocks for Coronado. Kristen Herlosky added seven kills for the Cougars, and teammate Michell Lisowski had 17 digs.
Carly Schiess had 10 kills for Green Valley, and Emma Johnson added nine kills. Jenna Swaffer dished out 27 assists for the Gators, and teammate Taylor Seidler had 11 digs.
Piena was glad her team could extend its lead in the standings, but said the Cougars need to stay focused.
“Hopefully this will lead to better things,” she said. “We’re all just pushing to the end together.”