West Ranch boys volleyball starting setter junior Johnny Buchanan had only played a total of 31 games at the varsity level. Buchanan never backed down from the challenge, excelling and being named the Foothill League Player of the Year.
“It was really cool just knowing that I would have that position and have the opportunity to lead my team to another Foothill League championship,” Buchanan said of his role at the beginning of the season. “It was always my goal from the beginning of the season, but I never really thought about it during league because we were just focused on winning as a team. It just became a by-product of wanting that league championship.”
The chemistry with his teammates was noticeable from the start as he stepped into the starting setter position and delivered 26 assists, according to MaxPreps.com, in the first match of the season in a 3-1 win over Simi Valley.
With every match that West Ranch played it seemed like Buchanan’s dynamic athleticism flourished more and more as he grew closer with his teammates.
Ranking top five on the team in almost every statistical category, Buchanan did a little bit of everything for West Ranch’s fourth straight undefeated Foothill League title season.
Buchanan ended his junior year as the team leader with 839 assists and 56 aces, second with 51 total blocks (27 solo), third with 135 digs and occasionally made a kill here and there to finish fifth on the team with 86 kills.
“Just focusing at every practice, taking every rep seriously and getting better,’ Buchanan said. “Playing for all my teammates every game and trying to make them look as good as possible.”
Beginning the season 7-1, the Wildcats lost back-to-back road games against Thousand Oaks and Bishop Alemany in straight sets, which did not sit well with the 6-foot-1 setter. But he would get a chance at redemption in the playoffs.
Working hard and staying mentally tough, the Wildcats lost four games, all non-league games, the rest season and headed into the CIF-SS playoffs as one the No. 5 ranked team in Division 4.
West Ranch finished Foothill League play with a perfect record for the fourth straight year, but had two hard-fought matches against Valencia go to five games, pulling out wins in both.
“We learned that we have to be mentally tough in those situations which we did a really good job at and we never really cracked under pressure,” Buchanan said of the battles to beat Valencia. “We had some lulls, but compared to the beginning of the season we improved our mental toughness a lot, played really well and fought through the doubts every time.”
West Ranch entered the playoffs weary of another first-round exit just like a year ago, but came out and dominated Dos Pueblos for a straight set win to advance to play Thousand Oaks in the next round.
Serving a heaping plate of revenge, the Wildcats returned the early season loss and eliminated the Lancers out of the playoffs in four sets. Awaiting the Wildcats in the quarterfinals was Bishop Alemany.
West Ranch dropped the first game against the Warriors, but stormed back to the match and advance to the semifinals in four games.
“Those two wins meant a lot to us because we hadn’t beat Alemany in a couple years so that felt good, beating them in playoffs when it counted most,” Buchanan said. “Then beating Thousand Oaks on their home court after we probably played one of our worst games of the season, especially serving wise, at Thousand Oaks early in the season.”
Matching the furthest any boys volleyball team advanced into the playoffs, the Wildcats fell in the following round to eventual Division 2 champions Saddleback Valley Christian, but have to be confident for next year with the core group of guys returning alongside Buchanan.
“Just want to give a shout out to all my teammates Zack Drake, Neiko Pittman and Spencer Birchall,” Buchanan said. “I couldn’t have done it without them. It’s a team game, it’s never just one person’s responsibility for any win or loss throughout the season.”
Zack Drake, Jr., West Ranch
Spencer Birchall, Jr., West Ranch
Jacob Knudsen, Jr., Valencia
Dorian Ellis, Sr., Valencia
Gavin Leising, Jr., Hart
Jake Meyers, Sr., Hart
Shane Kelley, Sr., Canyon
Tristin Clint, Sr., West Ranch
Neiko Pittman, Jr., West Ranch
Tyler Clyde, Sr., Valencia
Ben Kash, Sr., Valencia
Alex Schmidt, Sr., Hart
Ryan Sloan, Sr., Canyon
Daniel Compton, So., Saugus
Aaron Berko, Sr., Canyon
Russell Karimee, Sr., Golden Valley
Sawyer Tengberg, Jr., Hart
Cameron Mudgett, Sr., Saugus
Daniel Ra, Jr., Valencia
Daniel Bisla, Sr., West Ranch