Drawing the No. 24 ranked team in the state of California according to MaxPreps.com in the second round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 playoffs, Valencia boys volleyball had all it could handle welcoming Esperanza to Valencia on Thursday.
Falling in three games: 22-25, 21-25, 22-25, the Vikings season came to an end in the second round after an up-and-down year.
“Just the story of our whole year,” said Valencia head coach Kevin Kornegay. “We are a .500 team the whole year and sometimes we play up to teams or down to team’s potentials. We were playing at a pretty high level today, kind of matching them, and we made a lot of mistakes the first game, but that didn’t concern me as much as the second game.”
Going toe-to-toe with the Aztecs, errors and mistakes proved costly in the first game as the Vikings finished with five service errors among other mistakes.
“Against a team like Esperanza, you can’t do that,” Kornegay said. “Or any team for that matter that is solid. That hurt us in game one. In the end they pulled away, again by our mistakes, but hats off to them they are a very solid team and they are going to take advantage of that.”
Rebounding and learning from its mistakes, the Vikings came out hungrier in the second game playing the Aztecs very close and tied them at 9-9 after a Jacob Knudsen kill.
The Aztecs went on a run, scoring six of the next seven points, punctuating the run with back-to-back aces by Blake Prebe.
Valencia fought back to tie the game at 19-19 as Dorian Ellis and Tyler Clyde started to find their spots, but then something unusual happened.
Almost simultaneously, Clyde and libero Danny Kwak went down clutching their legs.
“We were right there with them at 19-19 and then we have two guys get injured, by the way, that’s never happened to me before,” Kornegay said. “We were trying to figure out how to plug the holes in that game which cost us.”
Unable to recover from losing the pair of players, the Vikings fell 25-21.
With two players injured, Valencia had to change up their lineup and strategy inserting outside hitter Benjamin Kash as the libero with Kwak still hurt.
“At first we were rattled,” Kash said. “We came back after a few points and we were able to adjust, we are a pretty well-rounded team. When one man falls, another steps up and we really did that today and we played hard.”
Clyde returned with heavy wrapping on his left calf and high ankle and provided enough energy and kills to give Valencia an early 5-2 lead.
“Basically, I just wanted to play,” Clyde said. “Last game, I was thinking leave it all out on the court. I’m not going to sit down the rest of the way. I tried my hardest until I couldn’t possibly play anymore.”
Battling back, Esperanza took a 9-8 lead and with every point that Valencia scored, answered with one or two of its own to build a four-point lead up 17-13, forcing a Vikings timeout.
Ellis’ drop shots kept the Vikings within striking range down 19-15, but Esperanza never let up with its high-speed serves and precision kills to take the third game and the match.
“We had to redo our lineup because Danny our libero was out and we weren’t sure how healthy Tyler was and we had to move Kash over to libero, who is an outside hitter, so we juggled our whole lineup,” Kornegay said. “Sometimes that pays off, but in a game you want to be with your most consistent lineup that the kids are used to.”
Clyde led the team with 11 kills, Knudsen had 10 and Ellis chipped in nine.
“We got a lot of guys experience,” Kornegay said. “There are a lot of young guys that got into a lot of games throughout the course of the year so I think the future is bright going forward. The seniors did a great job for us, left their mark and set the bar for the guys next year to win league, not come in second, and then go deeper in the playoffs.”
West Ranch 3, Thousand Oaks 1
The West Ranch boys volleyball team entered the CIF-SS Division 2 second-round matchup against Thousand Oaks at Thousand Oaks High School with a chip on its shoulders. That chip was revenge.
Taking the first game, the Wildcats played their best defensive match of the year coming away with a four-game win: 25-23, 14-25, 25-21, 25-19, avenging an earlier season loss.
“That was really important for us,” said West Ranch head coach Brandon Johnson of the first game win. “It was really nice because we were familiar with the gym and the surroundings. The first set was a dog fight, we were trailing the whole time and didn’t have the lead until 24-23. We kept fighting and playing hard defense and that’s what won us that set. That gave us a cushion because we let our play drop in the second set. They turned the game around for themselves and we let our play drop so giving ourselves a cushion, in the beginning, was really beneficial.”
The Lancers came back, playing motivated volleyball and took the second game easily.
“They are a good team,” Johnson said. “They kind of remembered how good they were and we were not able to match their level of play.”
Rebounding, the Wildcats pushed forward to win the third and fourth games by similar scores of 25-21 and 25-19 to advance to the quarterfinals.
“I saw fight. Not that my boys don’t fight, but we are a quiet group that you don’t really know always what you’re going to get from them as far as killer instinct,” Johnson said. “They showed it in the third and fourth sets as their play matched their desire. Winning the third set was huge for us, we got down 21-20 and we got out to an early lead in the fourth set and we never looked back.”
Zack Drake led the team with 13 kills and Neiko Pittman followed with eight kills and four aces. Johnny Buchanan dished out 34 assists while defensive stalwart Spencer Birchall recorded 11 digs and two aces.
The Wildcats are the last team standing from the Foothill League and will face Alemany on Saturday. The location and time is still to be announced.
“It feels really good in the fact that it’s validation for everything we have been working on all year,” Johnson said. “Goal No. 1 is winning the Foothill League. Goal No. 2 is winning as many playoff games as we can. So far, we have just kept checking things off the list. Although we are the last Foothill League team standing, we play Alemany which is basically Foothill League south. They are very comfortable in Santa Clarita and so it’s going to be a very good match against a team that we have already seen this year. Both teams a very familiar with each other and may the best team win.”