Girl’s varsity volleyball “spikes it” to win Redwood’s first state championship title

Arjun Aujla

On Saturday, Nov. 20, the girls’ varsity volleyball team raised the Division II State Championship trophy with elation. That evening they had dominated the Carlsbad High School Lancers 3-1 playing at Santiago Canyon College in Orange County, Calif. Their victory marks Redwood’s first state championship title in any sport. 

After struggling throughout the first set of Saturday’s game and losing 25-16, Redwood went into the 3-minute interval before the second set with little to no momentum. In order to turn things around head coach Ursula Gruenert had a simple message for her team. 

“I told them to be like goldfish and to have a 10-second memory,” Gruenert said. “It’s something I say a lot, and this team does a great job of having a short-term memory and putting a bad set behind them.”

Gruenert explained that because they had never played Carlsbad before, she and the team watched their film closely in the week leading up to the game to identify some of their top players. 

Jumping into the air, junior Emma McDermott winds up for a spike. (Courtesy of Brooke Leslie)

“We remembered that number four on their team was a good blocker, and their outside hitter number 21 was very strong offensively,” Gruenert said. “They came out of the gates strongly and shut us down, [so] going into the second set, I made some lineup adjustments, and we felt the entire momentum shift. We could feel that they hit their peak, and the momentum was ours.”

Starting the second set, Redwood gained an 8-2 lead largely due to junior Emma McDermott’s three kills, point scored off a spike, during the team’s seven-point serving run. The girls maintained this lead and finished off the second set with a kill by sophomore Jaden Hendrickson.

The Giants started the third set equally as strong, taking an early lead. Although Carlsbad rallied back and tied the score with an impressive kill, McDermott responded with a huge kill of her own. Junior Kaley Mathews is the team’s starting setter. She set McDermott up for the kill and spoke about the magnitude of that series. 

“It was when the grounds were even, we both had won one set and it was a close game. [I realized] that whoever wins the [third] set will win the match,” Mathews said. “When I went back to serve, I knew I had to be really aggressive, and we went on a roll and ended up winning that set.” 

McDermott led the team in kills with 15 plays and an impressive 11 digs. Senior Sophia Shaw, the team’s libero and a Babson College volleyball commit, recorded a season-high of 21 digs and Hendrickson scored 11 kills of her own. Mathews, a University of California, Los Angeles beach volleyball commit, had 35 assists, with eight digs, six kills and four aces.

She had an excellent game, adding clutch aces and perfect sets when the Giants most needed a point. Before the game, Mathews was promoted to co-captain by Gruenert. 

Celebrating with their medals, the Redwood girls varsity volleyball team smile for a picture. (Courtesy of MaxPreps)

“During our warm-up, [Gruenert] said I was going to be one of the captains,” Mathews said. “I had never had the title, but I noticed that a lot of my teammates looked up to me during hard times [in] games.”

 Redwood scoring the final point to win the match sparked immediate exhilaration throughout the whole team. Shaw shared the team’s feelings when Carlsbad committed a net violation that scored the final point for the Giants. 

“We all fell to the ground and huddled up, hugging each other,” Shaw said. “It was really awesome. Once we got the trophy, we held it up as a team … I’ll never forget that feeling [of winning the State Championship].”

The team received lots of support, including a Tweet from California Governor and Redwood Alum Gavin Newsom, wishing them good luck. After a long season of heartbreaking losses and dominating wins, the bond these girls have after winning the state title will never be broken.