With a berth to their third straight girls’ volleyball championship game at stake, the Notre Dame High School Royals rose to the occasion.
The Royals, on Friday, in front of their home crowd in Talofofo, defeated the surging Academy of Our Lady of Guam Cougars, 26-24, 24-26, 25-21, 25-21.
In a rematch of the past three Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam championship games, the Royals will face the Saint John’s School Knights.
The final will take place at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 22, at the University of Guam Calvo Field House.
In the third-place game, preceding the championship game, the Cougars will take on the John F. Kennedy High School Islanders at 5:30 p.m.
In an unexpected turn, the Cougars, leading 24-20, nearly took the first set.
The Royals, with their backs to the wall, trimmed two points from the lead. Tied at 24, setter Nicolette Perez’s back-to-back service aces brought the crowd to their feet.
In the second set, the Royals found themselves in a familiar precarious situation. Trailing 24-21, the Royals Minami Rabago scored three straight points.
The Cougars, with a kill from Kristen Serrano and an ace from Cori-Nicole Paulino, evened the match one set apiece.
With the first two sets in the books, Royals’ Austia Mendiola knew they had to raise the intensity.
“We knew we committed a lot of errors in the first two sets,” Mendiola said. “So, once we started to control our personal mistakes, we knew that it would ... help our team.”
The Royals, winning the third set in another barnburner, jumped out to a 19-7 lead in the fourth set.
Mendiola, throughout the run, amassed seven kills.
The Cougars, looking for any opportunity they could find, took advantage of the Royals' complacency and chipped away at the lead.
A kill from Academy’s Rebecca Salas trimmed the lead to 23-16. Two more Royals’ errors lifted the Cougars’ spirit.
The Royals, leading 24-20, called on Mendiola to carry them through.
Mendiola, on a controversial match point, elevated and hit a shot out of bounds. The Royals’ players and coaches, recognizing the ball was tipped, immediately objected to the outcall. After a brief deliberation, the referees awarded the match to ND.
“A lot of our hearts went into this season, so getting back to the championship game is an unreal feeling,” Mendiola said.
For Michala Connelley, one of the Royals' newest team members, having a chance to play in a championship game will be a new experience.
“This moment feels surreal because I’ve never been to a championship game, for any sport, not even in middle school,” Connelley said. “The girls have been so good at welcoming all the new players, and help build(ing) ... chemistry.”