The No. 3 Corona del Sol Aztecs, led by 36 combined kills from outside hitter Maggie Beauer and outside Alyssa Aguayo, took down the No. 6 Liberty Lions in four gritty sets (25-20, 23-25, 25-20, 25-23) to advance to the semifinals.
The Aztecs completed the season sweep after taking down the Lions in straight sets during the regular season, besting the Lions again in tournament play and ending the Lions’ season during the quarterfinals.
Coach Ben Maxfield said a fast start was crucial to tame the Lions, but the Aztecs found trouble early with uncharacteristic miscues. Maxfield said he always reminds his team they have “10-15 points to get the butterflies out” to get adjusted, and once they did, Corona had control.
Beauer had six kills in the opening set, but the Pepperdine Volleyball commit was just warming up. “I didn’t have the best game last time and I wanted to come into this and play the best I could,” Beauer said. For the better part of the Aztecs’ first two sets, Liberty had no answer for her attack.
With the attention Beauer was drawing, holes opened up for Aguayo, who registered seven kills in the second set. She said the success she found on offense starts with the team around her, “especially in the big rallies and plays, our defense plays a big role in a lot of my hits.”
The Aztecs found themselves down 8-1 early in the second set, but a timeout by Maxfield followed by an 11-2 run brought Corona back in it.
Maxfield said he didn’t say much during the timeout, he knew his team was OK.
“We always talk about what happens when we suck,” he said with a laugh. “The thing is, we just keep going. We know we’re good players. We just have that conversation, ‘Hey, we know we’re sucking right now. Let’s turn it around.'”
On the court, it started with leadership.
Aguayo not only offers offensive power, but experience of being through the playoffs and winning the state title in 2022. “Just knowing that we have a lot of young girls and the people with that experience, just guiding them through the tough times and long rallies, ” she said. “Telling them to relax and take a deep breath helps.”
The Aztecs flashed their championship pedigree after overcoming an 8-1 deficit in set two and surrendering an 8-2 lead in set three. Corona overcame a handful of five-to-six point deficits through the match, but it seemed no matter how much momentum Liberty had, it took one side-out and kill for the Aztecs to steamroll back into the game.
Corona answered in the third set and jumped out to a 8-1 lead, but the Lions were able to knot the contest at 13. The two programs traded point for point before Corona ripped off a run and closed out the match, taking a 2-1 lead.
The energy in the gymnasium helped the Aztecs capture and keep the momentum through the fourth set. The Lions held a 23-21 lead, but aces by Beauer and a strong finish by the front put the game away.
Beauer finished with 16 kills and three aces, and Aguayo with 20 kills and a pair of aces. The pesky defense by sophomore libero Erin Clark and the serve receive allowed Corona to have success in its offense, and now advance.
“It’s so much fun,” Aguayo said. “Going back to last year, how much fun it was, I just want to keep going and do that again — get as far as we possibly can.”
Maxfield said the power and leadership of both outsides has been monumental in the success of the program this season, but the strong play from the younger roster has been just as important.
Corona will host the No. 7 Perry Pumas after the Pumas upset No. 2 Xavier College Preparatory in five sets. Corona will host the last match of the season in Sammy Duane Gymnasium on Wednesday, Nov. 8 at 6 p.m.