Moments after the Irvine Valley women's volleyball team became the fourth straight undefeated state champion Sunday, Lasers' All-American 6-2 sophomore middle blocker Annie Mitchem was signing autographs for a few young fans.
There's a good chance, her celebrity status will get brighter in the future after a dominating MVP performance in leading IVC to its first-ever CCCAA women's volleyball state title.
The Lasers defeated last year's state champ Cabrillo for the second time in two days and completed a perfect season at 27-0. Irvine Valley is the third Orange Empire Conference program to win a state title.
Irvine Valley only lost seven sets all season (81 won) in accomplishing the feat and handed previously undefeated Cabrillo its only two defeats while ending the Seahawks' 62-match win streak.
"It feels really good to accomplish this championship after getting to state last year and losing to Cabrillo," said Mitchem, who put on a clinic in the finals match with 24 kills (.488), six solo blocks (seven overall), and seven digs.
Mitchem's numbers overall in three victories were staggering as she totaled 58 kills and 15 blocks in 11 sets while making only five errors in 99 attempts. Her .535 overall attack percentage is unheard of for that many attempts at this level. Mitchem will take her talents to the University of Hawaii on a scholarship.
"One thing I improved at was playing all-around including the back row and passing," she said. "It helped my entire game. What I like about our team is we all get along so well. It was great to win it for Pesto and the rest of the coaching staff."
The Lasers took control of the match, grabbing a 10-5 lead in the first set. They put together a 10-1 run for a 10-point opening game triumph.
In the second set, Cabrillo led, 12-11, and the teams traded 12 ties before Mitchem took over with three kills and a solo block during a 7-2 run that clinched the game.
Cabrillo didn't quit in front of its home crowd in Aptos as the Seahawks won the third set, 25-22.
But in the fourth set, the Lasers led, 8-1, and never were threatened.
"She's the best player I've seen ever at the community college level," Irvine Valley coach Tom Pestolesi said of Mitchem. "She can do everything. As a team, I go back to when we had our bus ride back from Foothill College (after being eliminated at last year's state tourney). It started there. Our four corps players (Mitchem, Hailey Jones, Marisa Doran and Kobi Pekich) were determined to come back and win it this year. And it all came together this weekend."
Doran, one of Irvine Valley's team captains, had high praise for her teammate Mitchem.
"It's an honor for me to have played with a player of Annie's caliber," Doran said. "She did so many things well, and it pushed me and other teammates to be better. We had a great camaraderie as a team. We never got on each other, and we concentrated on our court play."
Also for Irvine Valley, Doran, a sophomore outside hitter, recorded 17 kills (.395) and added 14 digs and three blocks.
Pekich, also a sophomore outside hitter, added six kills and 13 digs while Jones, the team's sophomore setter, added 51 assists and 13 digs.
Freshman libero Kayla Scheevel chipped in 17 digs for IVC.
Cabrillo was paced by last year's MVP and an All-Tourney selection this year in Kelsey Shaver, who hit 15 kills and had 10 digs. Patrice Williams contributed 11 kills and Alex Flores added 10. Madison Borch had eight kills and four blocks.
"The better team won," said Cabrillo Coach Gabby Houston-Neville. "I felt like after we won last year, everyone showed up here with a clean slate. I'm proud that we fought as hard we did and we just came up against a powerful team in Irvine. To finish in second place after the state title win last year is something to be proud about."
"When you have an athletic bunch, you want to coach them to be an exciting team to watch," Pestolesi said. "They did all the work. But they were as fit a team as you'll find. We conditioned them well, and they stayed on task all year. I couldn't be happier for the players and our coaching staff and support staff."
For Irvine Valley, it also returned the state crown back to Southern California after that region's colleges won the first 36 state titles prior to Cabrillo's first-ever North region title in 2013.
*Release courtesy of Robert Lewis - CCCAA Women's Volleyball State Championships SID