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By Zach Cavanagh

SAN CLEMENTE – On a night that began with a tribute to the late Dana Hill coach Oz Simmons, there was no better way to pay homage than with another spirited chapter in the Dana Hills-San Clemente rivalry.

After Dana Hills took the first set, San Clemente took the second set and rallied to take the third and fourth sets in a nonleague win over the Dolphins, 22-25, 25-15, 29-27, 25-18, on Thursday at San Clemente High School.

“All I wanted us to do is play hard to honor Oz,” San Clemente coach Casey Swenson said. “We got that and more out of the girls. They kept that energy all night long.”

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Before the match, Swenson and Dana Hills assistant Travis Barr, a 1991 Dolphin graduate and former player under Simmons, gave a few words to the crowd in Simmons’ memory. San Clemente’s players and coaches wore blue ribbons with “Oz” written in silver marker.

A celebration of life for Simmons, who coached volleyball at Dana Hills for 35 years and died of cancer on Sept. 2, will be held in the Dana Hills gym on Sept. 26.

Dana Hills and San Clemente have a fierce rivalry in many sports, but the volleyball matches between the Dolphins and Tritons are some of the most heated around. Last season, Dana Hills swept San Clemente in the regular season, but the Tritons got the final say in the playoffs by sweeping the No. 3 seed Dolphins.

“The girls really wanted this match all year,” Swenson said. “They live for it. The energy from playing them last year (in a playoff sweep win by San Clemente) carried over. We just revel in that opportunity.”

The opening set went back and forth with 14 tie scores before Dana Hills (4-5) broke a 22-22 tie and took the final three points in a 25-22 win.

In the second set, San Clemente (7-6) took the lead in short bursts and closed the set with a 7-2 run to take the set, 25-15, and tie the match.

Abby Stewart was all over this match for the Tritons with big kills and blocks.

“I told (Stewart) that I wish you could play Dana every night,” Swenson said. “She plays great always, but against Dana, something extra comes out, and she steps up.”

San Clemente got an early run for a four-point lead in the third set, but Dana Hills fought back to tie the match, 9-9. The Tritons and Dolphins played to 17 tie scores in the set, and Dana Hills had the first opportunity to close the set with a 24-22 lead.

Ella Gardiner came up with back-to-back kills to tie the match, 24-24, and fought off the first set point to tie the set again, 25-25.

“Ella is just a difference-maker,” Swenson said. “No one can really control her.”

San Clemente broke the final tie, 27-27, with some help off the roof and won the set, 29-27.

“We needed one side out,” Dana Hills coach Tom Hoff said of the third set. “We were in a nice rhythm and they made a couple hustle plays, just effort. It wasn’t a set play, and they just got on the ground hard. That’s what we need to get comfortable with.”

In the fourth set, the teams traded the first nine points before Dana Hills took a four-point lead at 14-10. San Clemente fought back to tie at 16-16, and Dana Hills took the lead again at 18-16.

Then San Clemente swung back and went on a 9-0 run to tie the score and eventually win the set, 25-18.

“We talk a lot about the momentum swings,” Swenson said, “capturing that energy and being able to turn it around. Make that one play that’s able to get the ball rolling again.”

Both teams now charge into league play.

San Clemente opens defense of its Sea View League title on Tuesday, Sept. 17 at home against Capistrano Valley.

Dana Hills begins its push in the South Coast League on Tuesday, Sept. 17 at home against Aliso Niguel.


Zach Cavanagh
Zach Cavanagh is the sports editor for Picket Fence Media. Zach is a California Journalism Award winner and has covered sports in Orange County since 2013. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ZachCav and follow our sports coverage on Twitter @SouthOCSports.

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