The ball skied high and wide, threatening to fall to earth out of bounds, as Mira Costa girls’ volleyball junior Chloe Hynes ranged to her left.

In one fell swoop, Hynes thrust herself onto the scorer’s table, extended her arm and punched the dying dig back into play. It seemed impossible. The visiting crowd at Mater Dei’s gym exploded, a triumphant shower of admiration for a gritty play.

The celebration lasted a split second. A Mater Dei hitter casually smacked a weak return away for a point. The save was all for naught.

Thursday night should’ve been an exciting clash of the titans, an early-season matchup between two of the best girls’ volleyball programs in California. But the Mustangs sat three of their top players. Grit could only take them so far after a first-set victory, and Mater Dei stabilized an overpowering block in the following sets for a fairly easy 3-1 (23-25, 25-16, 25-22, 25-21) win.

“When we see them later in the season,” Monarchs coach Dan O’Dell said, “they’re going to be a much, much different team and a stronger team.”

Drew Wright, Mira Costa’s leader in kills last season, was on the sidelines in a black warmup shirt and sweatpants. Charlie Fuerbringer, one of the best setters in the country, was there too, as was transfer Tanon Rosenthal.

All three, along with Georgia Walker and Emilia Kupiec, were benched by coach Cam Green after a violation of team policy. Green declined to name the exact circumstances of the violation, noting that it would only be for one game and the team was handling it well.

“It wasn’t that easy to do,” Green said of sitting the group, “but we set a precedent.”

His team was still expecting to compete, Green said, and compete they did by stealing the first set. But the momentum shifted immediately in the second, Mira Costa simply unable to get a ball over Mater Dei’s block despite Hynes’ best efforts, and late-set comebacks throughout the night fell short.

“Blocking is going to be one of our huge strengths — we have a lot of size across our hitters right now,” O’Dell said. “We should block a ton of balls.”

Mater Dei volleyball’s Izzy Clark notched nine kills in the team’s win over Mira Costa on Aug. 18, 2022.

(Luca Evans / Los Angeles Times)

Senior middle blocker Preston Johnson led the way with seven blocks. Junior outside hitter Izzy Clark — holding up her wrist like she’d just swished a three-pointer after one powerful shot —notched nine kills, as did junior Babi Gubbins.

But the Monarchs knew they didn’t play their best. Everyone was up and down, O’Dell said, moving his hand like a rollercoaster.

Not quite the Southern Section playoff preview it could’ve been, with the early-season kinks and missing faces.

“I would like to replay them with their starters, Charlie and Drew,” Clark said of Mira Costa.

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