Hart Indians boys’ volleyball won its first game at Valencia in four years as the Indians escaped with a victory after a five-set match on Thursday.
Hart won the up-and-down match 25-16, 15-25, 25-23, 19-25, 15-10.
Before the game, both teams and the crowd shared a somber moment of silence for the fallen family member of a Hart player. Middle blocker Gabe Stokes has been away from the team after the killing of his younger brother Cameron Stokes. The team has been in a rough state but fought hard to earn the Foothill League win.
The Indians (17-3, 4-0) were led by outside hitter Owen Douphner, who slammed down a match-high 26 kills. However, several other Indians came alive in the fifth set to notch the win over the Valencia Vikings (15-14, 3-1).
Senior Hank Kaufman surged in the fifth game, where he registered four of his 13 kills.
“It felt really good,” Kaufman said. “I felt really slow in the first four sets. I’m not really sure what was going on but I kind of just flipped the switch and felt like I was gonna go play my best in the fifth… We haven’t beat them in forever. It feels really good to beat them in their own house and I can’t wait to play them at home.”
Kaufman’s four kills helped Hart take a 10-9 lead in the final set. Two rallies later, opposite hitter Brandon Derham then fueled a 5-0 run with a kill and clutch block to set up match point for Hart. Libero Isaac Kim then sealed the match with a service ace.
Douphner has often done the heavy lifting for Hart, but head coach Loy Mueller was proud of his other starters’ strong finish, especially after such a bumpy match.
“I love how we can play really well and then respond to coming out flat and just keeping calm,” Mueller said. “It’s that experience, there are a lot of seniors. They’ve been here before. They understand what they need to do. They never get too frustrated… They do a really good job at picking each other up and making sure everyone’s in the right headspace.”
Hart stormed through the first set, winning by nine points. Douphner poured in eight kills in both the first and third sets for Hart.
The Indians’ serving struggles kept Valencia in the game. Hart’s seven errors from the service line nearly cost the team the third set but Hart just squeaked by, thanks to a block by Douphner.
Valencia didn’t need much help from the opposition in the second set when junior outside hitter Jarek Pascua caught fire.
The Vikings could do no wrong in the second game, winning by the biggest margin of victory on the day. Pascua registered six of his team-high 18 kills.
Pascua’s momentum lasted throughout the match after just one kill in the first set. Valencia pulled away in the fourth set and found a comfortable lead. Hart nearly inched back into the frame with Douphner serving but an overpass by Vikings libero Ethan Nguyen turned into a point as the ball found the open floor on the Hart side.
Mueller, a former Hart player himself, along with his players, had never beaten Valencia on the road.
“We got to get the monkey off our back and that was our goal,” Mueller said. “We want to accomplish something that the seniors haven’t done in this program. They’ve been here for four years, so it felt really good to see them do that. It’s always a hard game to play and there’s always a lot of support. Valencia always plays really well here. They’ve always been a good volleyball program. So, I love coming into gyms like this and being challenged and the boys love it, too.”
Valencia fell just short in the team’s first league loss of the year. The Vikings were without head coach Josh Kornegay, who was out sick, but even without their leader, Valencia showed it is capable of playing tough competition.
Both teams return home on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. when Valencia hosts Castaic and the Indians host Golden Valley.
Hart now takes sole possession of first place in the Foothill League, and with all tournament play wrapped up, the Indians can focus on finishing atop the league for the first time in 30 years.
“I definitely want to see us win league,” Kaufman said. “I want to see us go on a deep run and see how far we can go. Maybe we could try and win a state title.”