The Irvine Valley women's volleyball team's magical season came to a close on Sunday just short of a State Championships title.
The Lasers had their 24-match winning streak snapped Saturday night by the top-ranked team in the state, Cabrillo, in five dramatic sets.
Irvine Valley then lost to Grossmont, 25-23, 25-16, 25-21, in a loser's bracket match on Sunday to fall out of the double-elimination event at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills.
The Lasers, ranked second heading into the tournament, finished third in the state.
Cabrillo went on to beat Grossmont in the state championship finale later on Sunday in four sets. Cabrillo finished the season 31-0.
It marked the first time in the 37-year history of the State Championships that a team from Northern California won the title.
"Cabrillo and Grossmont did a better job of serving and passing and that's really what the game is about" Irvine Valley coach Tom Pestolesi said. "Grossmont took us out of our system right away and we never recovered.
"I look back at a season where it was an enjoyable journey. We won what is the toughest conference in the state and it's a feat to get this far. We've made it to state now six times and those years we've been just a little better than others."
The third-place finish tied for second-best in Irvine Valley history. The Lasers also finished third in 2009, which was their last trip to the state event.
The 2003 IVC team was the state runner-up to Golden West.
In the loss to Grossmont, the Lasers were led by freshman middle blocker Annie Mitchem with eight kills and freshman setter Hailey Jones who tallied 23 assists and three aces. Sophomore middle blocker Haley Whyte added five kills and two blocks.
Irvine Valley started the four-team event on Saturday afternoon with a 25-21, 25-19, 25-15 sweep of American River. The victory was Irvine Valley's 19th sweep of the season.
The Lasers won by controlling the net.
The 6-2 Mitchem had 11 kills, 5-11 sophomore right side hitter Alexis Radecki added 10 kills (and four blocks), and 6-0 freshman outside hitter Marissa Doran contributed 10 kills ( with three aces and nine digs).
The towering trio caused problems for Big 8 Conference champion American River, which saw its 19-match win streak snapped.
"We've out-blocked our opponents in every match this year, and that's been our strength this year," Pestolesi said. "Tonight, we had good balance on offense and our setter (Hailey Jones) is a really good server and she put us on a few runs. Alexis Radecki really played consistent all night."
Jones finished with 38 assists. Sophomore libero Becky Moodie added 16 digs.
Radecki hit .444 overall (18 attempts).
Irvine Valley had to turn right around and face Cabrillo a little more than an hour later as part of the winner's bracket final. The winner of the match moved directly into the championship final on Sunday.
Cabrillo pulled out a 28-26, 15-25, 25-19, 15-25, 15-11 win to hand Irvine Valley its first loss of the season.
The matchup of undefeated teams was the first at the state tournament since 2000 when Golden West and Long Beach City colleges faced each other.
In the fifth set, Cabrillo matched Irvine Valley's strength in blocking and used four team blocks (to two by the Lasers) to help it take leads of 3-0, 10-6, and 13-8. Irvine Valley wouldn't quit and fought off two match points, including a kill by Mitchem, but Mitchem's next attempt went wide to close out the marathon in Cabrillo's favor.
Mitchem had a season-high 26 kills for Irvine Valley, hit .396 and added seven blocks.
Doran finished with 16 kills and Radecki totaled 10 kills. Freshman outside hitter Kobi Pekich contributed six kills and 18 digs.
Moodie also had 18 digs and Whyte scored five blocks.
Irvine Valley made nine service errors, some in key situations that hurt its cause.
"We made more errors in the fifth set and that was the difference," Mitchem said.
Irvine Valley still had a fantastic season They won an Orange Empire Conference title, ran off 24 victories in a row, were ranked No. 2 in the state and No. 1 in Southern California at the end of the regular season and had Mitchem named conference MVP, all-state and All-American, Jones named all-Southern California and Pestolesi selected as the Southern California Coach of the Year.