All four sets were a fight to the finish in the North Coast Section Division IV volleyball quarterfinal matchup between No. 4 Del Norte and No. 5 Cardinal Newman in Crescent City on Saturday. The Warriors were the stronger team down the stretch, however, and Del Norte was able to pull out a 3-1 (25-20, 25-27, 25-19, 25-22) victory over the Cardinals to advance to the NCS semifinals for the first time since 2000.

“It was tit for tat,” said Del Norte head coach Debbie Lorenzi. “They would score two, then we would get two, then they would get two and we would get two. Fortunately for us, when it got to 20 we tended to get more points in a row than they did. That is a good time to put pressure on them.”

Del Norte held a 21-19 lead in the first set before finishing with a 4-1 run to secure the victory. The Warriors pulled away from an 18-18 tie in the third set with a 7-1 run to grab a 2-1 set lead, and used a 4-1 run at the end of the fourth set to break a 21-21 tie and come away with the win. Even though the Warriors lost the second set, they managed to put together a 4-2 run to force overtime after trailing 23-21 before ultimately falling 27-25.

“We just had to keep our energy up and continue doing what we were doing,” said Del Norte senior setter Payten Healy. “Even when they scored a point, we had to keep our spirit up and just keep going for it. We didn’t let them effect what we do.”

Lorenzi said the Warriors’ calm demeanor down the stretch is partly due to the team’s experience with four seniors in its starting lineup. The Warriors’ coach was also quick to point out that the Cardinals had six seniors on its roster this year as well.

“For us, I think it was the senior experience and a lot of desire that we had,” Lorenzi said. “We had fun. We were excited to play the match, and it was a good type of excitement. The players took over our meeting before the game and they were excited to go play that game.”

Healy said Del Norte’s loss to Cardinal Newman in Santa Rosa in the 2016 NCS quarterfinals helped serve as a little extra motivation for the Warriors in the quarterfinals.

“We knew we could have beat them last year,” Healy said. “We took a game off of them last year but we just didn’t preform to the best of our abilities. Our goal was to come out in this game and do that.”

Although the Warriors were confident in their ability to compete with the Cardinals, the teams appeared to be on fairly equal footing for most of the night.

“I think the teams were pretty equal,” Lorenzi said. “We possibly had more strength at the net, but our defense was better by far. Our weakness tonight was serving. We missed too many of our serves. But the rest of our game was pretty good. I thought Payten did a good job setting and Toni, as a libero, had a ton of digs out there. “

Claire Smith led the Warrior hitters with 20 kills in the match to go along with a block for a kill.

“Claire ran her butt off at the net — she was running slides, in front of the setter, behind the setter and hits from the back row,” Lorenzi said. “She really stepped up as a senior and did a really good job.”

Junior Kaleya Sanchez also played a strong game, recording 11 kills and a team-high four blocks for kills, including a big block in the fourth game to break a 20-20 tie as Del Norte closed in to win the match.

“Kaleya had some really good blocks, and that block in the fourth game, when she was all by herself was really big for us,” Lorenzi said. “She also passed well and just had a good all around game.”

Healy and Paula Mello both chipped in eight kills apiece for the Warriors, with Mello also recording a block, and Healy dishing out over 40 assists in the match.

Katherine Martinez chipped in seven kills in the match as well, and senior Tayler Melton overcame some early struggles and ended up with five kills against the Cardinals.

“Tayler struggled in the first game, so she just said, ‘I will play smart, soft, ball.’ She kept it in and gave us a chance to play instead of hurting us,” Lorenzi said. “That was a big step maturity-wise. Overall, my hitters were good tonight. Tayler wasn’t the Tayler that we know, but she was smart enough to get us points. She had some beautiful tips and she got kills that way.”

Del Norte was nearly at full strength to open the game after two starters were playing through injuries in the Warriors’ first round win over El Molino. Sanchez was struggling with a shoulder injury and was unable to put a full swing on the ball in the opening round game. Healy was also hobbled in the first round with an ankle injury.

Both Warriors were feeling considerably better at the start of the game on Saturday.

“When you know that someone is out you have a tendency to play up tight, because you know that you are going to have to play better,” Lorenzi said. “That puts a lot of stress on the players and it isn’t as much fun. But when everyone is there and is able to do what they need to do then people can relax, play the game, and just be aggressive and go for it.”

Del Norte’s good health took a bit of a hit midway through the quarterfinals when Healy re-injured her ankle while trying to change directions on the court, but the senior and reigning Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5 MVP was able to gut it out and push through the rest of the match.

With the win, each of Del Norte’s players are now further than they have ever been in the volleyball playoffs.

“It means a lot, especially with this team,” Healy said. “We knew that we could do it and we went out and did it just the way that we have been practicing to do it all year. Our goal was to get past the second round, further than we did last year, and we especially wanted to beat Cardinal Newman because we lost to them last year.”

Del Norte’s victory over Cardinal Newman also puts the Warriors through to the NCS semifinals for the first time since 2000. Like the 2000 team, Del Norte will take on the No. 1 seed in the semifinals, traveling to Ross to take on Branson High School.

Branson has been a volleyball powerhouse in the NCS recently. The Bulls are the defending Division IV champions after moving up from Division V last year due to the section’s new competitive realignment rules. Prior to moving up to Division IV, the Bulls captured seven straight section titles in NCS Division V.

Although Branson is clearly a talented team, Del Norte hasn’t seen the Bulls play this season and Lorenzi said she highly doubts that Branson knows anything about her Warrior squad.

“We are just going to go out and play the game that we know how to play and let what happens happen,” Healy said.

Reach Michael Zogg at mzogg@triplicate.com.

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