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Colts Race Past Highlanders for Volleyball Championship PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mike Terry | Contributing Writer   
Thursday, 29 May 2014 01:07

Granada Hills has been the closest thing to a dynasty in City Section boys’ volleyball, having won five of eight Division I championships from 2006-13. But only once during that stretch, 2006 and 2007, have the Highlanders won championships in consecutive years.

On Saturday, May 24, the defending champions tried again to go back-to-back in hoisting trophies. But the Highlanders ran into a hungrier, more driven team in Carson in the final at Roybal Learning Center in Los Angeles. And it was the Colts who won their first ever Division I championship, 3-1, by scores of 21-25, 25- 22, 25-21, 25-20.

In fact the Colts (36-11) might have swept the final if they had tried to interrupt a 10-0 run by the Highlanders in Game One, which took Granada Hills from 17-12 down to 22-17 ahead.

“I’m gonna take the blame for that. I should have called a timeout a lot sooner to try and slow them down,” Carson Coach Ralph Mertens said.

That was the only time the Colts looked unsure of themselves. In the other three games it was the Highlanders (25-6) who appeared rattled by Carson’s defense, it’s fearlessness in chasing down every potential point, and its irrepressible force known as senior outside hitter Jordan Molina, who recorded 30 kills.

“That (10-0 spurt) was about the only run we had the whole match,” Highlanders Coach Tom Harp said. “They played great defense and earned a lot of points against us.

“The credit goes to them. We made some mistakes here and there, but they did a fantastic job.”

The teams had met earlier in the season on March 7 with Granada Hills winning the match, 2-1, at the Redondo Union Varsity Preseason Tournament. Neither Carson nor Granada Hills knew they would meet in the City final two months later, but it figured both would be better.

“When we played them in the tournament it was pretty even. And I knew (Wellington Afusia and Molina) were very good players,” Harp said.

Still, the Highlanders looked every inch a defending champion and the top seed, racing past Narbonne of Harbor City, South Gate and Pacific Palisades in the playoffs without dropping a set.

But Carson, seeded second, was primed for a rematch. The Colts had only dropped one set in the playoffs in defeating Bell, Birmingham and Chatsworth. And the match loss to Granada Hills in March had given Mertens and his staff some ideas of what to try and do differently.

“They run their attack into the middle so well, so we tried to work on that,” Mertens said. “But they’re an awesome team.”

Not so much this night. And not after Game One. Not after Mertens got his team refocused.

“We got a little frustrated, got some balls blocked, and they were acting like it was life or death,” Mertens said. “I told them it was part of the game, that we just had to fight through it.”

The Colts continually pounded the Highlanders rotating front wall of Joe Bedikian, Carlo Carson, Drake Uthe and David De Luna with kill shots from all kinds of angles. Granada Hills got its share off blocks, but it was apparent the Colts were more interested in quantity as opposed to quality — especially since Molina was continuously successful at driving the ball through and past the Highlanders defenders.

He was not the only one causing the Highlanders pain. Angelo De Guzman didn’t have many aces, but his serving gave Granada Hills fits, often getting weak returns that set up the Colts for easy kills. Besides Molina, Noah Taitano had eight kills and Afusia contributed six kills and four blocks.

And when the Colts won Game Two, the momentum switched to their side pretty much for the rest of the match.

“I thought we played pretty much the same all four sets,” Mertens said. “We had control. [Other than Game One] we stayed with them and never quit.”

Granada Hills had nine kills by Uthe, seven kills apiece from Justin Timbol and Bedikian, and six kills by Carson. But even with that collective strength, the Highlanders never seemed to get the big points in the match after Game One, nor could they stop the Colts when they really had to.

The Highlander’s frustration level reached a dangerous point when Uthe was given a yellow card by the officials for hitting a ball after the whistle had blown. But there were no further outward demonstrations of angst.

“It was hard for us to get more than one or two points in a row,” Harp said. “Again, defensively they played an outstanding match. They got a lot of balls up, kept everything in play, they passed well, they played well all around….that’s why the credit goes to them.”

When Taitano pounded home the deciding match point for the Colts, it was more a moment of finality rather than Carson finally reaching a goal it had strived for for a long time. And there may be more; Mertens mentioned the JV team is taller than the varsity, and won tournaments at Sylmar and Capistrano Valley. He didn’t seem overly concerned with having to replace six seniors. He even suggested that Carson was “more than a football school.

But now Mertens and Carson will spend next year trying to figure out how to repeat.

Granada Hills can tell them how tough that can be.

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