In danger of being swept, the Saugus boys volleyball team kept fighting. Diving for every ball and putting Simi Valley in uncomfortable situations, the Centurions showed a competitive spirit rare for teams of their experience level.
The Cents were able to extend the final game, but ultimately fell 27-25 and were swept by the Pioneers Thursday at Saugus.
“We get on some good competitive runs, we get really scrappy and like, every once in a while we get in that competitive mode that we need to be in,” said outside hitter Tim Kempler. “Just diving for every ball is what we need to keep doing.”
The Centurions (0-2 overall) gained a 12-10 lead in the first game on a kill from Kempler, but shortly after, Simi Valley was able to go on a five-point scoring run, capped by an ace from Evan Fleming, to get a 17-13 advantage.
A handful of unforced errors hindered Saugus towards the end of the frame, as the first set finished 25-18 in the Pioneers’ favor.
The Cents trailed briefly at the start of the second game but were able to pull ahead 7-5 on an ace from Daniel Compton, a kill from Kempler and a block from Dillon Smith.
“The main thing to do is just close the seam, make sure everyone knows what area they’re covering, who is responsible for a ball in that way, you can count on whoever else to pass for you,” said Kempler of how his team handled Simi Valley defensively.
Saugus was able to tie the game five times as Kempler shouldered most of the offensive duties, finishing the night with 15 kills, while Compton came up with a big block and an ace in addition to keeping the team motivated with his energetic, athletic style of play.
“It’s big for us knowing we have two big swings on the outside with Tim and Daniel,” said coach Max Nua. “Not only being a big swing, (Compton is) someone who is aggressive but able to calm the guys down and regroup them and kind of get everybody going.”
The Pioneers closed out the game 25-20, but Saugus wasn’t about to roll over. The team again started the game with a lead, going on a four-point run early for a 5-2 advantage. Simi Valley tied it up at 10-10 and although the Cents were able to climb back 12-10, the Pioneers used two aces to jump ahead once again.
From there, the teams went point-for-point until the end of the match. After a Saugus serve hit the net, Simi Valley’s Yashin Ruiz executed an ace to win the final game 27-25.
“In that third set, I reminded them that they’re there with guys they’ve fought with for the entire summer and through the first half of the season,” said Nua. “That’s who they’re relying on and that’s who is relying on them and they rally around each other. If someone makes an error, they’re able to pick each other up and get each other going.”
A young Saugus team has been gaining experience quickly this season. Only two players on the roster return with varsity experience: Kempler and setter Cameron Mudgett, who was out of Thursday’s game due to illness.
“We have a very big next-man-up mentality and it’s very apparent in practice, we’ll throw in random guys and expect them to do the same job,” said Nua. “That’s kind of the way we have to handle it with a team with only two guys that have varsity experience.
“You’ve got to teach them all, I have to teach to the highest level and everyone has to pick it up and kind of meet with the pack if they’re falling behind.”
The Centurions next host Alemany on Feb. 28 at 5:30 p.m. and begin Foothill League play against West Ranch at home on March 14.