Valencia volleyball wins first league title in nine years 

Valencia celebrates winning against West Ranch on Thursday, March 7. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
Valencia celebrates winning against West Ranch on Thursday, March 7. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

For the first time in nine seasons, the boys’ volleyball Foothill League title returned to Valencia, where it remained for years in the late 2000s. 

The Vikings clinched the league title April 11 with a 3-1 win at Canyon. 

Brendan Riley has been with the program for 15 years but led the way in lifting Valencia back to the summit in his first season as head coach. 

“It was a great, great feeling,” Riley said in a phone interview. “When we secured at least a share of league, that wasn’t a big celebration, it was kind of a relief. We had a tough match against Canyon and we lost the first set and then came back and won the next three. We definitely celebrated after that match. That was a good feeling. All the hard work paid off. They even got me to dance a little bit.” 

Leading the way for Valencia on the court were senior outside hitters Jarek Pascua and Jet Ricks. Both left side hitters have powerful swings they’ve showcased on the net for the past few seasons but have also stepped up as leaders off the court. 

Ricks led the team with 166 kills in league while Pascua added 138. 

Also returning for the Vikings was opposite hitter Dane Ricks and libero Nathan Willis.  

“I have to talk about Nathan Willis. He is the best libero in the league, for sure,” Riley said. “He’s an MVP-caliber player or defensive player of the year. It’s rare that a libero can influence the game the way he does.” 

Valencia’s biggest offseason holes were in the middle and at setter, after a talented 2023 graduating class departed last season.  

Sophomore Dylan McFatridge filled one middle spot, jumping from the frosh squad to varsity. McFatridge totaled 49 kills and 31 blocks in his first season of varsity Foothill League play. 

The Vikings worked with multiple setters throughout the season but Riley has found his offense to be most lethal and efficient with Leo Sangthongkum running the show. 

“(Our pins) were very experienced, so that was a big part of our hopes, but the one big question mark was at the setter position,” Riley said. “We platooned three different setters until we got into a groove with one. We probably played half the season with three different setters before turning to one.” 

Sangthongkum was a natural opposite hitter, giving him an edge with hitting and blocking on the net. The junior fed his offense well but snuck in plenty of dump kills to keep defenses off balance. The setter was called up to take the job full time just ahead of the biggest match of the season, round two with Saugus. 

“(Sangthongkum) was the taller of the three setters and was able to block as well, but he also became the most consistent setter,” Riley said. “We stuck with him since and I was nervous about making that change before such a big match but it paid off.” 

Valencia opened up league play with a straight-set victory over Hart before suffering its only Foothill loss of the season against Saugus. 

The Centurions, the Foothill League silver medalist, won the first match of the season 3-2 with a 16-14 fifth set. 

The Vikes rebounded and went on to win 17 matches with just six losses, none of which were in league play, for the remainder of the season. 

Valencia was pushed to four sets in most of its league matches, as this season has been one of the tightest Foothill League races in recent years, but was only pushed to five sets once more. The Vikings again battled with the Centurions in a five-setter with league title implications. Each team took two of the first four sets by at least six points before Saugus looked in control in the fourth. Down by six points, Valencia found a spark with Pascua at the end line as the captain served strongly but consistently, leading to the tiebreaker set. The Vikings won the fifth game, 18-16. 

“This year was by far the most parity in the league,” Riley said. “Valencia had a run for a decade, West Ranch had a run for six years or seven years, but I think those days are over. More guys are playing club. There’s a lot more parity in the league for sure. I remember halfway through the league, there were six of the seven teams that only had two losses.” 

In between the league championships, the Vikings never fell off and were constantly a threat to top the league. Valencia never finished lower than third in league but just couldn’t retake the Foothill crown. The program has remained consistent and dominant since its 2008 national championship, but even with consistent, steady, high-level volleyball, the sport is trending back up at Valencia.  

The Vikes now enter the postseason with a new objective, a CIF championship.  

The program’s 2008 title was the last CIF boys’ volleyball title to return to Santa Clarita before Hart topped the Division 4 section last year. Valencia and West Ranch both enter the Division 4 bracket this week with high hopes of another banner in the Vikings’ gym. 

“It’ll be fun. We’ve played some of the teams in Division 4,” Riley said. “We have a couple of losses against this team so it’ll definitely be a challenge. We’re excited for a deep run.” 

Valencia kicks off its first home playoff match in three years on Thursday at 6 p.m. against Villa Park. 

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