Last year, they were on the outside looking in. This year, everyone else is looking at them holding the championship trophy.
Port of Los Angeles High girls volleyball finished tied for second place in the Imperial League for the 2018 season but was left out of the CIF-Los Angeles City Section Division 4 playoffs. But on Friday, the Polar Bears would complete a dramatic one-year turnaround by defeating East Valley of North Hollywood 22-25, 25-14, 25-23, 26-24 in the Division 4 championship match, winning the program’s first girls volleyball title in their second final appearance.
This was an amazing feat for a team that barely had tryouts when school began and had only two practices before their first match of the season against Foshay Learning Center back on August 26. “The amount of joy that filled my body was almost unexplainable,” POLA senior outside hitter Arelyz Marin-Matienzo said. “I was so glad that we accomplished this, and it’s definitely a memory I will never forget.”
With only nine girls available on roster for the whole week, POLA (15-6 overall) rose to the occasion by out-performing their own abilities in their hard-fought victory over the Falcons (8-18-1). And no performance was greater than the effort put forth by senior middle blocker Kaylen Scott, who posted a career-high 26 kills to go along with four blocks. “Kaylen is an outstanding player,” POLA junior outside hitter Lauren Brown said. “She is determined and always is a key player for our team.”
POLA jumped to early leads in the first three sets, but East Valley was able to overcome their mistakes in the opening set and forced the Polar Bears into 11 attack errors and three net violations. With the score tied at 22, the Falcons would pull away late to seal the first set win. Once POLA settled down, it would take control of the match with a relatively easy second set victory, and Scott played a massive role with nine kills in that set.
Scott delivered a thunderous kill off an East Valley player’s shoulder on a too-hot-to-handle spike at center net to set up set point in the second set. “I just kept hearing the crowd screaming and yelling; it pumped me up to slam that kill down,” Scott said.
When Scott went out due to rotation changes, junior middle blocker Mia DiCostanzo stepped in and also produced the game of her life, as she finished the night with a career-high 12 kills and a pair of blocks to solidify the Polar Bears’ strength up front that eventually overwhelmed East Valley.
DiCostanzo was also a calming influence to the team whenever the Falcons made their scoring runs, maintaining a positive outlook when things got bleak for POLA. “Mia always found the sweet spots on the court,” Brown said. “And whenever we got down on ourselves, Mia was always there to reassure me and everyone else that we got this.”
The third and fourth sets both had the Falcons leading late, but the Polar Bears made fierce rallies at the end of both sets to seal the championship, with both sets ending with an emphatic kill from Scott. Freshman outside hitter Sasha Suggs was money down the stretch in the later stages of the fourth set, with a timely tip kill and a service ace which put the Polar Bears up 23-22. “I was really nervous at that moment,” said Suggs, who had four kills, four aces & 15 digs. “My goal was to get it over and place it. Thankfully God was on my side and watched over me.”
After both teams traded service errors, Scott would finish off the championship with her last kill of the match which just dropped in front of the Falcons’ front line after it was dug out once, and the Polar Bears were on cloud nine… literally. It took all nine girls in this match to produce the Polar Bears’ ninth CIF-LACS sports championship this decade alone in what is the first full decade for the San Pedro-based Charter high school being playoff eligible. “This truly feels unbelievable,” POLA junior setter Anaiys Lopez said. “We worked so hard this season, and it’s great to see how our dedication paid off. Finishing those last two sets showed how badly we wanted to win.”
While Scott and DiCostanzo dominated the middle, the Polar Bears got valuable contributions from everyone who played, including Lopez delivering a career-high 46 assists to go along with four aces, as her serving led to the majority of POLA’s points. Brown had four kills, 22 digs and two aces, while junior libero Kasandra Soria posted a career-high 29 digs and also served an ace.
In all, POLA placed fourth in the more competitive Coliseum League, won one of many divisional championships in the large Maywood CES Tournament while in the CIF-LACS Division 4 playoffs, defeated Gardena, Maya Angelou of Los Angeles and Los Angeles High in the prior three rounds before making history. “We really put our blood, sweat and tears into winning this championship together as a team,” Soria said. “I wouldn’t want to have won this title with any other team than this one.” spt