After the first set, it looked like Long Beach Poly’s girls volleyball team was heading for a sweep over Vista Murrieta in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs. After dropping the next two sets, it looked like the Jackrabbits would drop a tough four-setter. But thanks to some good coaching and a clutch senior performance from Penny Tusa, the Jackrabbits dug out an impressive five-set win over the Broncos, 25-18, 19-25, 16-25, 25-21, 15-12.

“We finally got that first round monkey off our back,” said Poly coach Leland McGrath. His Jackrabbits are the two-seed out of the Moore League and had lost three straight playoff openers.

Poly’s turnaround was keyed by the grit of the Washington State-bound Tusa, who led her team with 16 kills and 12 digs.

The Jackrabbits also got a big night from Oni Ofoegbu, a 6-foot-4 sophomore who’s new to the team this year; she had nine kills and nine blocks. Poly overcame a great match from UCLA-committed Lexi Hadrych, who had 21 kills in the loss.

Tusa said that for she and the team’s other senior, Pai Iosia, that fourth set was an adrenaline burst.

“It’s hard when you know it could be the end,” she said. “We want to pick everyone up.”

The Jackrabbits blew through the first set with ease, taking a 17-10 lead and relying on a big block (they had five stuffs in the frame).

“We were penetrating really well,” said McGrath.

In the second set, an early net call at 4-4 seemed to make the Poly block hesitant, which helped Hadrych get going in the second and third set, both of which the Broncos won.

In the fourth set, Vista Murrieta led 11-7 and looked headed for the win, but Tusa had six kills in the set and helped lead the Jackrabbits back, along with a big ace from Iosia that brought Poly within a point. On back-to-back kills from Ofoegbu from Tusa, Poly took the lead at 13-12. They ended the set on a kill from Tusa and a solo block from Ofoegbu.

In the fifth, the Jackrabbits once again fell behind, this time 8-5. Tusa fired off four more kills for her team, and Poly eventually tied it at 10—a few mis-hits from the Broncos helped Poly close the set on a 6-2 run to take the match.

Poly will travel to face Marymount on Thursday in the second round.

Sports Guy Mike Guardabascio has been writing professionally for a decade, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards and is the author of the historical book "Football in Long Beach."

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