Irvine Valley's women's volleyball team had lost just one set all season heading into Friday night's Orange Empire Conference match-up with district rival Saddleback.
The Lasers, ranked No. 2 in the state and first in Southern California, dropped two to the No. 14 in the state Gauchos, but were able to pull out the win to stay undefeated on the year.
Irvine Valley rallied to come away with a 23-25, 25-21, 20-25, 25-23, 15-10 win over a tough Saddleback squad.
IVC improved its record to 9-0 overall and 3-0 in conference. Saddleback, which was coming off an impressive sweep of No. 4 Grossmont on the road on Wednesday, saw its record slip to 8-4 overall and 1-1 in conference.
"Our kids gutted it out," Irvine Valley coach Tom Pestolesi said. "They really stepped up on some big points when they needed to. But give credit to Saddleback. They are a very good team with a lot of really good volleyball players."
Irvine Valley was paced by sophomore outside hitter Taira Ka'awaloa, who finished with a match-high 26 kills to go along with a team-high 22 digs. Ka'awaloa, who hit .422 on the night, also had three blocks for the Lasers.
"T was amazing," Pestolesi said. "She really carried us at times tonight. And we needed her to do that."
Mandy Sides led Saddleback with 16 kills and eight digs. Lauren Whitehouse ended with 10 kills, libero Kelli Dowell finished with 25 digs and setter Antonette Rolda had 39 assists and seven digs.
Irvine Valley led the first set, 20-18, but then saw Saddleback score five of the next six points. A tip winner by Courtney Rose gave the Gauchos a 23-21 lead.
Two points later, Saddleback earned set point at 24-22 on a kill by Rose and two points after that the Gauchos took the set when IVC was called for a double contact.
The Lasers were down, 8-1, early in the second set and later, 18-13, before rallying. IVC scored 12 of the final 15 points in the set to take it 25-21.
Ka'awaloa was the difference with seven kills during the run.
Saddleback responded by taking the third set. The Gauchos led the entire way until Irvine Valley tied the score at 18-18 on a kill by Ka'awaloa.
But Saddleback scored the next two points, including getting an ace from Antonette Rolda to go up, 20-18.
The Gauchos didn't look back. A block by Lauren Whitehouse and then a kill by Whitehouse ended the set.
Irvine Valley won a very tight fourth set. The teams weren't separated by more than two points over the final 21 points of the set.
It was tied at 22-22 after a kill by Saddleback's Rose and then at 23-23 after a Gaucho hitting error.
But Ka'awaloa once again came through for IVC. Her roll shot for a winner gave IVC set point at 24-23 and then a kill by Ka'awaloa sent the match to a fifth and deciding set.
In the fifth set, Saddleback jumped out to a 7-4 lead after an overpass kill by Avie Butsko.
Saddleback led, 8-6, before Ka'awaloa had a kill and an ace to tie the score.
IVC rolled from there. The Lasers took just their second lead of the set at 9-8 on a Saddleback hitting error.
And after another Gaucho hitting error and a kill by Aguilar, IVC was ahead, 11-8.
Saddleback stayed alive with a kill by Natalee Gray.
But Irvine Valley won four of the next five points to take the victory.
Up, 12-10, Ramseyer had a kill, freshman outside hitter Alyssa Vortouni had a big block for a point and then Aguilar hammered home a kill to finish the match.
"There are definitely some things we need to work on," Pestolesi said. "But I was proud of our girls. They battled all the way till the end."
Irvine Valley plays again on Wednesday in another conference match at Golden West at 6 p.m.