SANTA MONICA - If there was a turning point in this championship season, it didn't happen when the Grace Brethren High girls volleyball team trailed for much of Game 1 Saturday night.
It occurred way back on Sept. 9.
The Lancers, fresh off winning the title in the Burbank tournament, dropped their Tri-Valley League opener to Foothill Tech in five painful games.
"It taught us right then that we can't be cocky," said senior outside hitter and team captain Hannah Barnes. "We had to be all about focus and one game at a time, every night.
"After that loss, we went back to practice the next day and put in a full two hours of hard work. We definitely learned what we needed to do."
Since then, there's been nothing but high-level performances and 14 straight victories, including five in a row without dropping a game in postseason.
Top-seeded Grace Brethren knocked off its next major goal with a dominating 25-21, 25-14, 25-14 victory over second-seeded Archer School in the CIF-Southern Section Division 6 championship match at Santa Monica College.
Barnes notched a match-high 13 kills, Cali McCoy had 12 and Calista Wright finished with 10 for the balanced Lancers, who win their second Southern Section crown in three seasons.
Jordyn Walker racked up 35 assists and Mari Wright finished with a team-best 19 digs as Grace Brethren improved to 22-3.
"It feels awesome," said Wright, the 5-foot-11 junior middle blocker. "We're a family, and we win as a family. We're always confident because we trust each other. We started out slow tonight but it didn't matter. We know what we can do as a team."
First-year head coach Natalia Simmons said her team's array of hitters has scaled every challenge this season.
"That's what makes us so difficult to beat," she said. "We've got so many players coming in at a high level every night. You can't just focus on stopping one or even two players. We've got so many players contributing in each match."
Barnes and McCoy were sophomores on the Lancers squad that won the Division 8 title in 2016. This was sweeter, Barnes said.
"It means a lot more to me," she noted. "Now I'm a team captain and I feel like I have a lot bigger role to play on this team. It just feels great that we've come through for each other."
The Lancers pulled off the decisive sweep despite a bit of a shaky start.
Grace Brethren fell behind 4-1 with three hitting errors, and still found itself with deficits of 15-12 and 17-16.
"We had to get through some nerves," conceded Barnes.
Simmons trusted her veterans to pull the Lancers through.
"I called only one timeout," she said. "I know what they can do. They know what they can do. When we play our game, we're tough to beat.
"At one point in that first game (Archer) put down a kill and the players are looking at me like, 'What do we do?' They know what to do. Put it behind us and win the next point. Really, that's what happened."
McCoy powered down a pair of kills as the Lancers took a 20-18 in the Game 1, and were never threatened thereafter. Mari Wright scored the final three points for her team with kills.
Grace Brethren completely controlled games 2 and 3, building a 15-6 lead in Game 2 and an 11-2 edge in Game 3. A kill by Calista Wright closed out the set, match and championship, sending the Lancers into a happy team hug near the net.
"We've worked for this all this season, and now we have it," said Wright. "It's just a good feeling. Now its on to the next step."
Grace Brethren has won the Tri-Valley League title and the CIF-SS Division 6 championship. Now it's on to the trifecta.
The Lancers hope to take home the program's first CIF-State title. The brackets were announced Sunday.
"We'll find out where they put us and who we play," said Simmons. "I know the girls are excited. We look forward to this challenge."