In a battle of two of the top three Foothill League boys volleyball teams, West Ranch went up against its rival Valencia at West Ranch on Friday.
Coming out of the gates a little flat, West Ranch allowed Valencia to take the first game, but rebounded and found the will and prevailed in a dramatic five-game win: 21-25, 25-16, 25-22, 24-26, 15-9.
“Anytime you go against your rival you know you’re going to be in for a fight, so we knew not to take Valencia lightly,” said West Ranch head coach Brandon Johnson. “We just came out very flat in the first set.”
Missing seven serves and giving up six hitting errors, West Ranch (13-6 overall, 3-0 in Foothill League) wasn’t able to recover giving the Vikings 13 points.
“With it being a rivalry match it was really tough in that these boys know each other so well,” Johnson said. “Almost every player on the other team and players on my team have played club together and known each other for years. I think mentally they get really hyped up to the point of trying to play beyond their abilities and trying to play beyond their comfort level.”
Making key adjustments to begin the second game, the Wildcats turned the tables and took the game easily. They then took the lead narrowly winning the third game by three points.
With Valencia keying in on West Ranch’s most offensive player junior Zack Drake throughout the match, junior Alex Miller stepped up giving the Wildcats some unexpected offense.
Miller finished the match with a career and team-high 17 kills.
“It was very apparent from the beginning of the match that Valencia was keying in on Zack Drake, which makes sense because he’s our big offensive weapon,” Johnson said. “We recognized that pretty early and we were able to spread out our offense and not just set Zack every time and Alex stepped up for us was huge and substantial.”
With a two-set lead, West Ranch began the fourth game with a fire and passion that carried over from the two straight wins, but got a little tentative and got out-played by Valencia in the fourth game and fell in a close one 24-26.
“I would love to see more killer instincts from my team and I would love to see us when we get to the 20’s with the lead just finish teams off,” Johnson said. “With that being said, Valencia turned up their blocking at the end of the fourth set. They were touching everything, they were blocking us, they played harder at the end, they wanted it more than we wanted it.”
Tied 2-2 with a decisive fifth game looming, West Ranch regrouped in the fifth game playing one of their cleanest sets of the season recording eight kills and no errors.
Johnny Buchanan hit an ace to take the game and the match for West Ranch in five.
“Being able to face some adversity and come out with a win is extremely important for this group of boys who are still trying to figure out the type of players they are going to be,” Johnson said. “Really just great win all-around for the program.”
Zack Drake had 13 kills for West Ranch, Neiko Pittman had 11 kills and four blocks.
Johnny Buchanan dished out 45 assists and had 13 digs and Spencer Birchall had 22 digs.
The Wildcats play Hart at Hart on Tuesday while Valencia hosts Saugus. Both games are at 5:30 p.m.
“We are going to find out what a kick in the pants does for us, if we are able to continue and build momentum off of what we did or if we come out flat again,” Johnson said. “I hope this was a really good lesson learned for our team and players who are inexperienced on the court. Just being able to fight and win and learn how to win, hopefully this was something that they will be able to carry over into Tuesday.”