Left stunned and angry by a five-game loss to Foothill Tech in the Tri-Valley League opener back on Sept. 6, the Grace Brethren High girls volleyball team didn't just get mad.
It got motivated. It got focused. It got better. A lot better.
"Big lesson for us," said first-year head coach Natalia Simmons. "We knew we were a good team, but we were overconfident. We had just come off winning the Burbank Tournament, and we lost some of our focus.
"That loss taught us that we had to be prepared to play every match. You just can't waltz in and expect to beat good teams. If we want to achieve all our goals, we have to work for it."
The Lancers have not lost a match since.
Weighing in at 17-3 overall, having won the league title at 7-1, Grace Brethren has earned the top seed in the CIF-Southern Section Division 6 playoffs. The Lancers, riding a nine-game win streak, learned the identity of their first-round opponent with the release of the CIF-SS pairings on Saturday.
Grace Brethren will be home vs. the winner of the wild-card contest between Chino and Patriot.
Simmons doesn't hold back as she ponders the Lancers' expectations.
"This team is really special," said the Grace Brethren graduate and former all-CIF performer in 2000. "We've got talent and a lot of depth. Most good teams have maybe three top hitters. We've got four.
"We attack from all directions and all angles, which makes us so hard to stop. We really do have the potential to win CIF and state. We're legit. Bring it on."
Grace Brethren is hardly the only local program eager to chase deep runs in postseason.
League champions Westlake, Ventura, Oak Park, Moorpark and Nordhoff all enter postseason confident and motivated.
First-round matches begin Thursday at 6 p.m..
Westlake, the Marmonte League champion and a glitzy 33-1, has been elevated into upper-crust Division 1 and begins with a big challenge. The Warriors will play at No. 2 Redondo Union.
Ventura (20-9) won the Pacific View League championship in its first season as a league entry and has earned a home match in Division 2. The Cougars will play host to El Dorado.
Oak Park and Moorpark finished as co-champions in the Camino League, and both earn first-round placements in Division 4 on their home court. Oak Park (17-9) will play host to Oxnard, which finished 19-18 and tied for second in the Pacific View League. Moorpark (19-5) will take on the wild-card winner between La Reina and Santa Barbara.
Nordhoff, which finished 20-2 and won the inaugural Citrus Coast League title, has been seeded No. 3 in Division 7. The Rangers start out at home in Division 7 against wild-card winner Hawthorne MSA or Anaheim.
In all, 14 local programs will launch play in the Southern Section playoffs, including three wild-card entries who will play Tuesday.
In Division 4, La Reina will travel to Santa Barbara and Calabasas will host Burbank. In Division 8, Hillcrest Christian will travel to de Toledo.
Other first-round matches Thursday feature:
Division 3: Buena at Dos Pueblos; Thousand Oaks at Santa Monica.
Division 4: Royal at Torrance.
Division 5: Foothill Tech at Viewpoint.
Division 7: Northview at Hueneme.
Division 9: Ambassador at Newbury Park Adventist.
Grace Brethren might in the midst of legacy-building.
The Lancers won the Division 8 championship in 2016, and could be on the verge of adding its second section crown in three years.
Three players, seniors Hannah Barnes and Cali McCoy and junior Calista Wright, played on the title team two years ago and have blossomed into key cogs in 2018.
"I'm blessed," said Simmons. "This is not only a talented group of players who work hard, they all get along as great friends. They're a pleasure to coach."
Wright, a middle blocker, is a power presence at the net in racking up a team-high 212 kills and 21 blocks. Not far behind in the balanced attack is Barnes (176 kills) and McCoy (173 kills).
Mari Wright, a freshman and Calista's sister, has piled up 105 kills.
The Wrights are the daughters of Carrie Wright, a former Pepperdine standout and professional beach volleyball player. Simmons is thrilled that family ties brought both siblings to Grace Brethren.
"Calista has been almost impossible to stop at the net," said Simmons. "Mari isn't far behind. They're not only great players, but great teammates. They make everyone better."
Junior setter Jordyn Walker deftly orchestrates the attack while piling up 598 assists, or 9.2 per set.
The Lancers also play solid defense, with Barnes leading the team with 204 digs and Walker piling up 185 digs.
Simmons admits it. She wants this team to announce Grace Brethren's status as a volleyball power.
"I'm here for the long run," she said. "I want this to be a program that everyone knows and a place where everyone wants to play. Why not? We've got a great school that offers a great education. I want to build a program for the long haul."
CIF-SS VOLLEYBALL PAIRINGS
Tuesday, 6 p.m.
- Division 4: La Reina at Santa Barbara; Burbank at Calabasas.
- Division 8: Hillcrest Christian at de Toledo.
Thursday, 6 p.m.
- Division 1: Westlake at Redondo Union.
- Division 2: El Dorado at Ventura.
- Division 3: Buena at Dos Pueblos; Thousand Oaks at Santa Monica.
- Division 4: Oxnard at Oak Park; La Reina/Santa Barbara at Moorpark; Royal at Torrance.
- Division 5: Foothill Tech at Viewpoint.
- Division 6: Chino/Patriot at Grace Brethren.
- Division 7: Northview at Hueneme; Hawthorne MSA/Anaheim at Nordhoff.
- Division 9: Ambassador at Newbury Park Adventist.