West Ranch boys volleyball coach Nate Sparks admitted he got a little emotional Thursday night after his team dropped its final match of the season in the second round of CIF-Southern Section Division 1 playoffs, 3-1, to Oak Park at home.
“I tried to hold it back,” said Sparks, who earlier in the year announced he’d be stepping down after the season for personal reasons. “I almost got teary-eyed, but I just keep it composed. The banquet will get me.”
The Wildcats played with the same amount of heart, if not more, in a match that ended with scores of 25-22, 21-25, 25-12 and 25-17.
West Ranch (22-10) held an early lead in Game 1, but quickly fell victim to the powerful hitting as the Eagles (35-3) jumped ahead 10-9.
A 20-all tie would come later, but Oak Park’s Alex Parks, a UCLA commit, smashed one final kill to seal the win.
“We just tried to be as disciplined as we possibly can,” said Sparks. “They’ve got three Division 1 guys on their side that are going to be playing at the next level next year and we’ve got none. So it’s more just us trying to play our game and being disciplined.”
The Cats fought back for a Game 2 win, capitalizing on Oak Park’s serving and attacking errors. They took a late lead, 22-21, on a Michael Flores kill but couldn’t finish the job.
Game 3 was muddled, but the fourth had a glimmer of hope. Back-to-back aces from junior Andrew Benser got West Ranch within four points of a lead, giving the team a jump start.
The Eagles rallied to score four points of their own, however, and went on to win the game by eight.
Flores ended the game with 15 kills and Derek Seo followed with eight kills and 11 digs. Connor Bertolett had 12 digs.
It’s the second year in a row that Oak Park defeated West Ranch in the playoffs. Last year, in Division 2, the Eagles won in the semifinals.
“One team’s got to go out with the win, one team’s got to go out with a loss and I thank them for making my last high school match a fun one,” Sparks said.