Hart Indians boys’ volleyball won its first playoff match in four years on Thursday after a home win over the Simi Valley Pioneers.
The Indians were pushed to a fourth set but found their rhythm in the latter two sets.
Hart won the match 25-20, 21-25, 25-21, 25-19.
Senior Owen Douphner led all players with 27 kills and three service aces for Hart.
Douphner was surprised to see the Pioneers in the first round but the win proved to be a confidence booster for Hart early in the postseason.
“I was looking at the bracket and I thought, ‘Why is Simi so low? Why are they a wildcard?’ I remember watching them at the Crescenta Valley tournament and there is no way looking at these other teams in the bracket that these guys are a wildcard. So, I was a little nervous coming into it but today was definitely a good confidence booster and everything will hopefully be a little bit more smooth from here on out.”
Douphner got off to a slow start but found his groove late in the first set with back-to-back aces. The senior only tallied three kills in the first set but fellow CSUN commit Hank Kaufman was ready at the other outside hitter spot. Kaufman delivered six of his 18 kills in the first to lead the Indians to victory.
Simi Valley was led by outside hitter Caleb Peters, a huge focus for the Indians defensively. Peters was slowed down but still finished with a team-high 20 kills.
Hart coach Loy Mueller believes his team matched Simi’s energy well after a delayed wake-up call.
“I think we were pretty amped but to get started, we kind of hit a little, little block where we flattened out a little bit,” Mueller said. “I think just the atmosphere and the aggression that Simi brought really picked us back up at specific points of the game. We were missing a lot of serves so we weren’t able to generate momentum. But as soon as we made an adjustment, we started making momentum, and we let our guys make plays. I think that’s really when the energy came out. And the playoff environment really came to light.”
Libero Isaac Kim led the defense with 19 digs.
Hart’s outside duo collectively played their best in the third game, where the two combined for 12 kills. The surge led to an 18-11 lead but the Pioneers kept chipping away at the deficit. Simi Valley rode an 8-1 run to jump back into the set. Hart was able to hold off the Pioneers and a kill from Colin Bailey put the Indians up, 2-1.
“I think honestly it just came down to not wanting to waste the year we had,” Mueller said. “It felt like we were just OK with the points they were scoring, or OK with the errors we were making to start the match off. It took until we started just playing simple, clean volleyball that we started getting that momentum and that vibe coming back to us that we’ve been used to this entire year.”
Simi neared forcing a fifth set but the team fell out of sync for a long spurt, which led Hart to victory, with match point coming off a kill from Douphner.
“Simi is a tough first-round matchup to have,” Mueller said. “This is a way tough first round in the playoffs but that’s what you want to face in the playoffs. You want to be well tested.”
It wasn’t the prettiest but Hart got its feet wet in the playoffs and now has a six-match win streak to power its momentum.
“That was a definitely a dirty win,” Douphner said. “We haven’t had one those since the beginning of the season. So, we definitely showed some grit and that’s another side of the game that we hadn’t played in a while. So, this was a super fun and super interesting win for me.”
Hart now moves on to the second round, where the team will have its first road test at Woodbridge. Mueller believes his team hasn’t quite peaked yet, but the team is nearing the mark.
“I think we’re still getting there,” Mueller said. “We had a long time off and we’re notorious for starting pretty slow. We kind of let the game come to us a little bit more instead of going out to take it, so that’s definitely going to be our focus tomorrow and in our match on Saturday. But I think we’re getting close and I think when we peak, it’ll be really fun and not very stressful to watch.”
The Indians head down to Irvine on Saturday at 5 p.m. to take on the Warriors.