By Justin Vigil-Zuniga
Signal Sports Writer
All four Foothill League volleyball programs took earlier exits than expected but still capped off excellent years for their programs.
Canyon and West Ranch survived the opening round but both were swept out of the second round.
Valencia and Hart fought for their spots in unique, challenging seasons but ultimately were eliminated in the first round.
Northwood sweeps Canyon
Canyon’s best season in years came to a close in the second round of playoffs at the hands of the Northwood Timberwolves. The Cowboys were strong in just about every category with strong serving, hitting and blocking.
Northwood managed to hold off Canyon at every turn and kept the Cowboys out of striking distance in their playoff sweep on Saturday.
Canyon still went to and won its first playoff game since 2015. Head coach Jeff Cody got a lot of fight out of his stars in Tobias Andrews, Mako Kardell, Trey Ortega and Brandon Boldroff.
“This group played as a team and everyone knew their roles,” said Cody. “This group of seniors was special, they all supported each other and genuinely cared about the team’s success over their own.”
The Cowboys’ team will look different next year but Cody has the program heading straight up.
Canyon of Anaheim sweeps West Ranch
The Foothill League champs’ season came to a close earlier than they expected. Their season was ended by a talented Canyon Comanches team.
West Ranch’s big serving and attacking game was matched well in Anaheim but it was still another incredible season for head coach Brandon Johnson’s team.
“This team truly loved each other,” said Johnson. “Out of the 13 players on the roster, nine played together as freshmen. It was amazing to be able to see the growth from each player.”
The program has been perfect in league play for six straight seasons and with star freshman Noah Douphner around for three more years, things may not change for a while.
San Marcos handles Valencia
Valencia got a tough opening-round matchup in San Marcos. The Royals have been playing great volleyball and looking strong now heading into the Division 2 semifinals.
The Vikings had an up-and-down year, but for how young the squad was, the season was a success. The team suffered a tough loss to Canyon late in the season after beating the Cowboys in five sets earlier in the year. The team bounced back for a big win against Hart on senior night.
“I think this year was all about gaining experience,” said Valencia head coach Josh Kornegay. “This was the first playoff game for everyone on the team except one.”
The team has a lot of underclass talent that gained great experience this year including a freshman starting at libero.
“The biggest surprise of this year would have to be freshman libero Nathan Willis,” said Kornegay. “He actually started on the frosh team to begin the year, but quickly made the case that he should be on the varsity squad. He was a huge reason for any success we had during the season and he is quickly becoming one of the top liberos in league.”
Willis and setter Kristianu Untalan will return along with sophomore twin standouts Dane and Jet Ricks in hopes of bringing the Foothill League title back to Valencia.
Royal knocks out Hart
The Indians were fighting for the playoff lives before anyone else in the Foothill League. The team needed some big wins at the end of the year and a must-win play-in game to even get to the postseason. Hart knocked out La Salle to officially enter the playoffs with a tough opening-round matchup with Royal.
The Indians fought to the very end, and forced a fourth set after going down 2-0. Royal got back to work in the fourth and ended the game, winning their three sets 25-15.
The team will retain the bulk of their core, including player of the year candidate Owen Douphner. The league player of the year candidate will have one more shot next year at a league title and besting his younger brother at West Ranch.
“It was a great year full of awesome matches and valuable lessons,” said Hart head coach Loy Mueller. “We grew as a team and as a program we were able to establish key foundation for the future.”