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Gahr turns the tables on Valley Christian behind Chavers

CIF-SOUTHERN SECTION BOYS VOLLEYBALL PLAYOFFS

By Loren Kopff

It was six months and a day ago when the Gahr girls volleyball team fell to host Valley Christian in four sets in a California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division II-AA first round match. The two schools met again, but this time in a boys Division III first round match this past Tuesday night and the roles were reversed.

Backed by a dominating performance from senior outside hitter Corey Chavers, the Gladiators eliminated the Crusaders 25-17, 25-21, 23-25, 25-20 to advance to the second round against Culver City, played on May 14,

“The entire match was really close,” said Gahr head coach Iris Najera. “Just like six months ago with the girls, it went in four and over here, it went in four. It was nice to come full circle and be on top this time.”

How close was it? Both teams were virtually playing the side out game for the most part. Gahr had one stretch of five straight points in the first set, then did not reel off more than three consecutive points at any time the remainder of the match. For the Crusaders (14-13), they scored three straight points just once until late in the third set and only twice in the match.

“I think it was their offense,” Najera said. “They’re a very offensive team. And then once we were able to stop their offense, then we had a difficult time with our serves.”

Gahr (19-8) took a 9-3 lead in the first set after three straight aces from Chavers. Later on in the set, the co-San Gabriel Valley League champions would enjoy their biggest lead of the match at 19-12 after yet another ace from Chavers.

In the second set, Gahr was unable to lead by more than four points at any time. But the Crusaders, who finished in second place in the Olympic League, were hanging around thanks in part to the play of junior right side hitter Spencer Fredrick and sophomore outside hitter Miller Davis, who combined for 11 kills in the set.

V.C. got to within a point six times but Gahr got the breathing room it needed when a lift call on V.C. put the hosts up 18-14. Moments later, a kill from Davis made the score 21-20 before Chavers had a block and the Crusaders were called for a net violation.

“We expected that, coming with a young team into the playoffs,” said V.C. first-year head coach Jason Kwak. “This is a great experience, playing a good team, a [CIF] finals team from last year. We were excited four our younger guys. We knew we were going to play a tough team. But at the same time, we knew this was going to be a valuable lesson.”

Gahr would maintain a three-point lead for most of the third set but V.C. would force five straight ties during one stretch. With the Gladiators up 20-18 and looking for the knockout punch, Fredrick and Davis had back to back kills. Then senior setter Ben Wassink came up with a huge block of Chavers before Fredrick had an ace after Najera had called a timeout.

“Corey is an outstanding player,” Kwak said. “He’s going to play [NCAA] Division I ball. What Ben did for us was just a bonus. We told him Corey might try to hit down a little bit because he’s going to out jump [Ben] and [Ben] is a little shorter. I just told him to time the block well.”

But in the fourth set, V.C. was unable to catch Gahr while trailing by a point five times after Gahr held a 10-6 advantage. Davis would lead the Crusaders with 20 kills while Fredrick added another 17.

“Their work ethic is just tremendous,” Kwak said. “Spencer is actually playing a new position. He’s been playing a middle position for two years. But when I came in this year, I told him I was going to make him my right side [hitter]. And Miller, he’s a sophomore outside hitter who played varsity last year. He has tremendous upside. Those two are making it competitive.”

Chavers led everyone with 28 kills and added six aces and a pair of blocks. Five other players combined for 19 more kills including half a dozen from junior outside hitter Jared Vernola.

“All season long, he’s been our guy,” Najera said of Chavers. “He plays defense, he blocks, he serves, he hits, he does everything and we’ve had a lot of success with him in that role. When the games are on the line, we know that we have a senior leader with him, and we also have that senior leadership with Darrell in the middle, too.”

The match also marked the return of Kwak to the gymnasium his alma mater, where he helped the Gladiators with a CIF Division II championship in 2000.

“It brought back a lot of memories,” he said. “Just being in the gym and hearing the same chants and cheers that I heard when I was here…it’s just good to see that Iris is doing something great here and keeping it going and keeping the same traditional stuff that we’ve been doing. It opened up the floodgates of emotions for me when I walked in.”

If eighth-ranked Gahr knocks off Culver City, the second place team from the Ocean League and ninth-ranked team in the division, it will visit the winner of the Cathedral-San Luis Obispo match on Saturday.

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