West Ranch boys volleyball success continues despite loss

The West Ranch bench celebrates a point against Saddleback Valley Christian in the third game at West Ranch on Wednesday. Dan Watson/The Signal

West Ranch boys volleyball’s Zack Drake had no hesitation when naming his favorite part of this season.

“Definitely going farther than any other team has in West Ranch history,” Drake said.

The Wildcats lost on Wednesday night to Saddleback Valley Christian, but just the fact that they were in that game was another stride in the program’s continuous, ever-growing success.

As the West Ranch boys volleyball Twitter bio immediately brings to attention, the Cats are the four-time defending Foothill League Champions and have won 41 straight Foothill League games.

On Thursday night at West Ranch High School, they matched the best finish in program history, making it to the semifinals of the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 tournament.

Current head coach Brandon Johnson, who just wrapped up his second season at the helm, inherited some success from previous coach Nate Sparks. Johnson said it was fairly easy to keep the momentum going, thanks to the players.

“The boys in this program have set a very high standard for themselves and they’re supremely athletic, they’re supremely talented,” Johnson said. “And honestly, I think that they did it. I didn’t do it. They set a standard for themselves and all I did was come in and just support them and help them along the journey.”

Drake, who is in his second year on varsity, has two older brothers that went through the West Ranch program. So the Wildcat way was a part of him before he even reached high school.

“We’re a really competitive family so growing up I always wanted to be better than both of them, so every time I played I tried to get one to two percent better every single day,” Drake said.

There’s a culture of competitiveness at the Wildcats’ practices, with the second team matching the aggressiveness of the starters and pushing them to get better. After losing 10 seniors to graduation last season, that mindset helped rebuild West Ranch quickly.

Even though several starters battled injury towards the end of the season, none gave up the sense of grit that was instilled.

“This group surprised me a little bit,” Johnson said. “We graduated 10, we returned basically one and a half starters from the team last year. So although we are very talented, the team lacked court experience on the varsity level and all that they did was go in every single match and show that they deserved to be there and exceeded my expectations for the year and have set a very high standard for the program moving forward.”

Last season, the Wildcats were eliminated in the first round of the CIF-SS Division 1 playoffs by Beckman of Irvine. Losing in the first round motivated the Cats for this season, so losing in the semifinals should be a whole other level of motivation.

“Last year we got knocked out in the first round of playoffs and I think those losses, those important losses like today pushed us to want to get better and not lose ever again,” Drake said.

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