Just a year removed from a devastating loss on the road to a championship title, the No. 6 Sunnyslope volleyball team celebrated its much-anticipated championship win, defeating No. 1 Millennium 15-25, 25-21, 25-18, 14-25 and 16-14 in the 2019 AIA 5A Girls Volleyball Championship Final.
The Vikings found themselves in the same situation going into the finals as they were during the 2018 postseason wrap-up. Only, they lost last year’s championship game to Millennium, who was making its foray into 5A play. This year’s title was a bittersweet treat, but to earn it with a side of revenge was an even greater delight.
“They’re such a good team, so it’s hard to describe just how much this means,” said Sunnyslope junior Michelle Jung.
Down 13-7 in a final set to 15, the Vikings seemed all but finished. Even the Vikings coach thought so.
“I was kind of looking at the score like ‘Dang it, we’re done, this is over,’ but they never gave up,” coach Amber LeTarte said.
The Vikings, though, won six consecutive points to force a tie, even faced a Millennium match point down 14-13. But in the eleventh hour of the game, after a Millennium player’s jump-spike hit went fluttering out of bounds - the Vikings knew they snagged the championship title and swarmed the floor in celebration.
“It’s just a team effort, but we just believed so much in ourselves no matter the score and held together,” Jung said.
While top-seeded Millennium mostly ran dominant through its 2019 5A regular season, Sunnyslope previously beat the Tigers 2-, during a midseason tournament. However, they knew it would be even more difficult to take down the defending champions in the postseason title match.
The Tigers came out hot, utilizing defense to mitigate Sunnyslope’s best spikes, hits and attacks - while keeping points long to goat the Vikings into unforced errors. On the offensive end, Millennium hit slick shots into the hard-to-cover corners to score points.
But, Sunnyslope retooled to take the second set, minding themselves not to miss the same shots they did during the first round. They even took an early lead, at one point reaching a 21-14 lead. But the girls kept a cognizant eye on the court to sustain playing great defense - including stepping it up a few notches with some effective blocking.
“That was amazing, just getting touches off the block and going after everything,” LeTarte exclaimed during a postgame interview.
The Vikings continued to dominate in the third set, breezing to a relatively-easy third-set win and deflating the Tiger team, who previously did not trail during any matches all tournament.
But, Millennium would not go away so quietly. A bitter battle to the end ensured between the two teams, but ultimately the Tigers pulled away and forced a tiebreaker.
The win constitutes a storybook finish for the Vikings, who LeTarte disclosed had an ‘up-and-down’ season with injuries and tough losses.
Several pivotal seniors, who contributed much to the program, played their last game wearing Sunnyslope’s black and green colors: The team plans to honor those girls through the start of next season. However, the Vikings are still young and many of the team’s best players will return next season. They aim to be back-to-back championship-title winners and expect to hold the gold ball again in 2020.
“It means a lot because we want to be right back here again next year,” Jung affirmed.