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St. Ignatius volleyball team flying high early

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    St. Ignatius volleyball team flying high early

Photo: Norbert Von Der Groeben, SportsStars Magazine

St. Ignatius’ Elizabeth Fleming, a 6-foot-2 junior middle blocker, has committed to Duke.
St. Ignatius’ Elizabeth Fleming, a 6-foot-2 junior middle blocker, has committed to Duke.

Photo: Norbert Von Der Groeben, SportsStars Magazine

St. Ignatius volleyball team flying high early

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The 2016 season was a breakthrough campaign for the St. Ignatius girls volleyball team.

The Wildcats won 32 matches, 14 more than their average win total over the previous 12 seasons.

They twice beat rival Sacred Heart Cathedral, the 2015 state champion and six-time Northern California titlist.

They were the runner-up at the league, section and regional levels — all to MaxPreps.com national champion Mitty.

It was a remarkable season for a program that four years earlier had gone 4-21.

“For sure it was a breakthrough season for the program,” said second-year coach David Huan, who — along with his wife Marietta Flynn Huan (whose father Mike Flynn played three seasons in the NBA) — ran the Redrock Volleyball Club in Redwood City. “But frankly, we were pretty disappointed.”

Don’t get Huan wrong. He fully understands that there’s no shame in losing to Mitty, which has won more state titles (13) than any program in California.

“But we wanted the girls to win something,” he said.

Welcome to 2017.

Despite losing four All-West Catholic Athletic League players to graduation — including first-teamer Anne Crouch — the Wildcats opened the season with their first tournament title under the Huans, winning the Milpitas Spikefest on Saturday by beating Sacred Heart Cathedral 25-15, 25-16 in the final.

St. Ignatius swept all five matches, including wins over other WCAL rivals Presentation and St. Francis.

More encouraging news for the Wildcats: Mitty was in the tournament also, but didn’t make it to the finals, losing to Carlmont-Belmont.

“I was really pleased with our ability to make adjustments and our ferocious style on defense,” Huan said. “We were very aggressive getting to the ball. When we struggled, we called timeout and the girls made adjustments.”

It will tough for opponents to adjust to the balance, depth and versatility of the Wildcats, or their dominating middle blocker Elizabeth Fleming.

The 6-foot-2 junior is one of the top players in the state. She committed to Duke as a sophomore.

“She’s the total package,” Huan said. “She has every physical attribute you could want — she’s fast and strong. She a great leader and self-motivated.”

Fleming has plenty of talent around her. St. Ignatius relies on at least 11 players in close matches including setters Sierra Tyson and Jeneiah Ignacio Soy. Other top hitters include middle Sarah Nunes along with Megan Lewis, Delaney Peranich, Corley Doyle and Megan Lucey, all who play on the outside.

The Wildcats lean on three defensive specialists: Skye Daval-Santos, Rose Holscher and Rhea Inumerable.

All were stellar Saturday, but Huan said the Wildcats didn’t make a huge deal over the title.

“It was absolutely 100 percent encouraging,” he said. “But we must push forward. It’s a long season and there is so much to improve on. We’re looking to build off last year but this year getting over the hump.”

Irish comeback: Sacred Heart Cathedral’s football team twice fought back from two-touchdown deficits in its season opener to beat Fernley (Nev.) 35-26 at Kezar Stadium. It was the head coaching debut for longtime assistant Barry McLaughlin.

A 40-yard fumble return by Raphael Cervantez came one play after Will Irons completed a 31-yard touchdown pass to Ronan Orford that gave the Irish the lead for good in the third quarter.

Irons threw for 250 yards and three scores, Anthony Heard had a 5-yard touchdown catch and a 7-yard TD run, and middle linebacker Zack Lealao had the big hit that forced the fumble on Cervantez’s touchdown. SHC hosts Justin-Siena-Napa (0-1) at 7 p.m. Friday at Kezar Stadium.

“It was a shaky start, but we battled back and settled down,” McLaughlin said. “Once we stopped pressing, the talent and speed took over. … Justin-Siena beat us good last season so we’ll have plenty of motivation on Friday.”

MaxPreps senior writer Mitch Stephens covers high school sports for The Chronicle.

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