Beach volleyball pro qualifier on Sunday

PROFESSIONAL COMPETITION: In this October 2019  file photo, Notre Dame High School Royals' Austia Mendiola taps during the Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam playoff semifinals against the Academy of Our Lady of Guam Cougars. Mendiola and Tatiana Sablan are pairing up to compete in a pro volleyball qualifier on Sunday. Robert Balajadia/Guam Sports Network

The Notre Dame Royals have a legacy in the volleyball community and the girls' volleyball team overcame a sluggish start to their 2019-2020 season, claiming the three-peat in an epic battle against the St. John's Knights in front of a near-capacity crowd at the University of Guam Calvo Field House.

"Everybody stepped up,” said Austia Mendiola, a Notre Dame junior. ”We all came together and played how we knew we could.”

The Royals, who have dominated the previous years, found themselves down their starting setter at the start of the season. Putting junior Nicolette Perez at the position required some adjustment, but the Royals put it all together with the Royal faithful cheering them on every point of the game.

“It meant so much to win,” she added. "Losing Gabbie (Piper), our starting setter, before the season was tough. That’s why, after the game, I ran straight to her.”

The junior, who also played for the Guam women's national team this past summer in Pacific Games, was a huge impetus for the championship, pushing her team to claim big points when it mattered the most.

After splitting the first two sets, late in the third, St. John’s led 21-20.

After an ND timeout, a kill from the Royals’ Minami Rabago and back-to-back Knights’ net errors gave the champs the advantage, 23-21.

A cross court-kill from St. John’s Tylee Shepherd cut the deficit, but Rabago stepped up. With a big shot, Royals arrived at set-point, 24-22.

Shepherd, rifling back-to-back winners, tied the barnburner 24-all.

Mendiola, who has been the Royals’ offensive catalyst all season, pounded a kill through the Knights’ defense.

The Knights, staring down the proverbial barrel of a team of loaded guns, with an error, lost the pivotal third set.

With momentum favoring the Royals, the champs jumped in front, 15-10.

The Knights, trailing 2-1 and 10 points away from losing their third straight final, fought back and tied the Royals 18-all.

In a match decided by a few points, Rabago and Mendiola carried the Royals across the finish line. The pair combined for five their final seven points.

Rabago, ripping a winner down the left sideline, set up match-point.

An unfortunate St. John’s error sealed the Royals’ three-peat.

The Royals, coming into the match, knew they had to pressure the Knights. Mike Rabago, ND’s head coach, needed contribution from freshman Faith Piper.

“She was huge tonight,” Mike Rabago said.

“We had to put up big blocks, and just challenge them,” Piper said. “It wasn’t easy, but I think our bond is really good, and we are tight like sisters."

“We had so many girls contribute to this season, and this win tonight,” Mike Rabago said.