For the first time in 30 years, the boys’ volleyball Foothill League title will return to Hart.
The Indians took down the visiting Valencia Vikings in four sets to clinch an outright league title. Valencia gave it all in their regular season finale, as a win over the undefeated Indians would have forced a co-championship between the two.
Hart finished off the perfect season 25-16, 25-18, 23-25, 25-22.
Senior Owen Douphner came to play in his Hart regular-season finale. The CSUN commit poured in 29 kills and the league-winning service ace to take the fourth set.
“That moment of victory was so sick,” Douphner said in a phone interview. “Not only was my team hyped, but it was super awesome to have a student section full of my friends and family to go nuts at the end.”
Indians head coach Loy Mueller knows nothing will ever come easy against Valencia (22-15, 10-2), as a coach and former player for Hart (27-5, 12-0). The win over their league rival made the victory just a little sweeter.
“I think the word is just excitement and almost a sense of relief,” Mueller said in a phone interview. “I give them all the credit, they are an amazing group. I think having it be against Valencia was really cool. They’re the one team in league where every game is a battle. I’m not trying to discredit other teams, but they’re the second-place team for a reason. I give a lot of credit to (Valencia coaches Josh Kornegay and Brendan Riley). They always make great adjustments to push and test us.”
Hart stayed in control throughout the first two sets but battled against Valencia’s serving adjustments in the third set, which led to a decisive fourth. Hart still knew it was in the driver’s seat but needed its best fight.
“We were still in control and knew not to panic,” Mueller said. “We just needed to pass a little better and just kept feeding the guys on the net.”
It was another tight set, but key blocking and big swings from Douphner and outside hitter Hank Kaufman were just enough to lift Hart to victory.
“You could tell it was a game that the boys really circled,” Mueller said. “Owen and Hank really showed up. Our setter Tanner Andrew had a really good control of the game. Bradon Derham did a nice job setting up our blockers.”
Hart finished with eight blocks on the day, with three coming from middle blocker Gabe Stokes. Andrew also added a pair of blocks while adding 34 assists.
The Indians are now playoff-bound for the fifth straight season but will host a first-round game for the first time in Mueller’s tenure. Hart has gotten recognition from the CIF polls all year and enters as the No. 2 seed in the Division 4 playoffs.
“In my tenure, we’ve never made it past the first round,” Mueller said. “Going in as the two seed is exciting but the boys feel they should be the one seed so they’re going in with a chip on their shoulders.”
The team will host the winner of the wildcard matchup between Rio Mesa and Simi Valley on Thursday at 6 p.m.
“The team is feeling super confident,” Douphner said. “Not only are we the two-seed, but this will be the first time in a while we have a CIF match at home. The team is definitely going into this week with a new level of focus and commitment that everyone is looking forward to.”