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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
Jason Kwak, the head coach of the Valley Christian High boys volleyball; team was feeling a little superstitious and nostalgic before, during and after the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division III championship match. Kwak was remembering when he was playing for Gahr High in 2000 when the Gladiators won the Division II title by upsetting Mater Dei High in five sets.
Now, he is a champion head coach as the Crusaders rallied in the final two sets and knocked off second ranked Cathedral High 19-25, 25-20, 17-25, 25-19, 15-12 last Saturday afternoon at Cerritos College. It’s the third divisional championship for the boys program, having won it in 2007 and again in 2011.
“I know exactly what the guys are going through,” Kwak said. “We had a same five-setter [in 2000] where it was a back and forth battle and we really needed to dig in deep. This team happened to be same. It was just funny this year. We were seeded fifth and I think we were seeded fifth when I was playing also. The pathway to the finals was kind of identical in the way everything played out, and I thought that was kind of fate.”
“I’m lost for words; this is a dream come true,” said junior outside hitter Miller Davis. “I’m so happy to pull that off and fulfill one of my dreams.”
V.C. had posted sweeps over Mission Prep High and Hemet High in the first two rounds and got past El Segundo High in five sets before sweeping top ranked Quartz Hill High in the semifinals. Kwak’s 2000 championship team swept its first two opponents before eliminating fourth ranked Redondo High, top ranked Santa Barbara High and third ranked Mater Dei.
It wasn’t looking too good for the Crusaders in the fourth set when the Phantoms raced out to an 8-3 lead. But Davis, who had been limited to eight kills up to this point, dominated the remainder of the set. Davis posted nine kills in the set and his ace tied the score at 12-12. Later, he had back to back kills to put the Crusaders up 18-16.
Then in the fifth set, it was senior middle blocker Giovanni Morandini’s moment in the spotlight. He had four of V.C.’s first five points as the Crusaders got out to a 5-1 lead before Cathedral head coach Deon Jones called a timeout. The Phantoms took leads of 7-6, 10-9 and 11-10. But Davis and senior opposite hitter Spencer Fredrick combined for the final five points to seal the victory.
“It was awesome,” Davis said. “We always get on Gio because he’s a middle and we need him. He’s a big player for us. As soon as we got out there on the floor, I told him, ‘Gio, I need you this game. We’re going to win it. It’s going to be you. I know you’re going do it’. He comes up big whenever we need him, so it’s awesome.”
“I just had a lot of faith in the kid’s teamwork,” Kwak said. “We were pushed; Cathedral is a great team. I know Deon; I played with him in college. Credit to our guys, we told them, ‘it’s always we stay as a team. We fight as six, not as one’. We were kind of going that route and then in the fourth and fifth set is when we really cemented and we really stood down and got together.”
The Crusaders (27-2) fell behind 6-2 in the first set and never led by more than a point, which occurred four times. They held a 15-14 advantage before a kill from Abraham Romero ignited a seven-point scoring spree for Cathedral. V.C. would have a hitting percentage of .139 in the set, and would see that number slip to .133 in the second set despite tying the match.
“There wasn’t anything specific [I said] to be honest,” Kwak said. “Our guys coming in were hyped and we knew what we wanted to do. But it’s always hard when you’re on the floor against a really powerful team.”
V.C. was up 16-10 in the second set before Cathedral rallied to trail by two points twice. But Fredrick had a pair of kills around a block from junior outside hitter Kyle Anema to close out the set. The Phantoms then were in control most of the third set as V.C. led only three times early on, never by more than a point.
“We saw Quartz Hill as a really strong competitor and we went into that game knowing that,” Davis said. “I think that’s what made us play so well. In this game, we kind of underestimated them a little, I feel like. But it’s hard to underestimate a team like that because they don’t look that big. But they’re scrappy, they know how to hit and they know how to play volleyball.”
Kwak pointed out that his team was lacking in the middle during the first three sets and was having problems with serve receive.
“Cathedral has great ball control and they did a great way of funneling things,” Kwak said. “And they made sure that we hit balls the way they were dictating. That was getting our players very frustrated. When they were trying to slow down Spencer, luckily we had Miller and Kyle that came on.”
Davis led the Crusaders with 21 kills and 19 digs while Fredrick added 16 kills along with nine digs and five blocks. Anema pitched in with 11 kills and 15 digs while Morandini (nine blocks), senior libero Kyle Vander Meulen (12 digs) and senior setter John Fey (50 assists) also had big performances.
“It’s good to have a team where we have so many weapons because the other team doesn’t know how to stop it,” Davis said. “The first game we had jitters and we really didn’t know how to control them. We’ve never been in a scale that big.”
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