After taking first CIF-SS Division 5 title, boys volleyball keeps momentum going with first round state CIF win Tuesday, May 17

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Summer Sueki

Opposite hitter junior Nathan Casasola (left) joins middle blocker senior Sebastian Bonca in an attempt to stop Arroyo Grande’s outside hitter, senior Josh McCune, from scoring a point during the first round of the state CIF tournament Tuesday, May 18, in the SH gym.

Grace Min

After claiming the CIF-SS Division 5 Championship this past weekend, the boys volleyball team blew past the Arroyo Grande Eagles in straight sets in its first round of the CIF-SS Division 3 SoCal Championship Tournament at home on Tuesday, May 17. 

The Lancers’ consistent defense and strong middle blocker offense led to the team’s 25-16, 25-20 and 25-19 against the Eagles (16-14), which lost to Central High School in the CIF Division 2 Central Section Championship on Saturday, May 12. 

Middle blocker and co-captain senior Sebastian Bonca said he was glad to see that he and his teammates did not experience a letdown after winning the Lancers’ first CIF title in boys volleyball against Carpinteria High School (21-7-1) May 14 at Long Beach City College. 

“I think the whole team felt very accomplished [after] winning CIF, and we came back to practice with the same mindset to play [with] our hearts on the court each game,” said Bonca, who’s been with the team since 2020, a year since its inaugural season two years ago. “We felt very good and ecstatic with such a huge accomplishment and that helped our team build even more confidence before this game.”

Ranked No. 4 in this tournament — just one spot higher than the Eagles — the Lancers (24-5) dominated Tuesday’s match from the opening set. Since this match was a part of a CIF state tournament, the Lancers moved from Division 5 in regionals to Division 3 in state because of the limited number of teams competing in the state championships. 

Though the match started with a missed serve from setter junior Logan Filadelfia, the boys quickly gained momentum with the help of middle blocker senior Ezra Vlad, who registered the first big block of the match. 

“I think today we did a really good job of gaining momentum fast and making sure we could make a streak of points last as long as possible,”  said Vlad, who’s also one of the team captains.

In the first set, the Lancers started off strong with a consistent lead of two or three points and broke away from the Eagles in the middle of the set, closing it with back-to-back blocks from Vlad. 

“Our middles are a lot faster than [Arroyo Grande], so establishing them early in the game allowed us to gain an advantage over their defense and made them guess who [we were] going to set next,” boys volleyball head coach Albert Soliguen said. 

Going into the second set, Sunny Hills continued to take charge and established an early four-point lead; however, Arroyo Grande’s outside hitter senior Josh McCune took command of the set, registering back-to-back kills to tie the game at 12. 

After McCune killed the ball to give the Eagles their first lead of the match, Soliguen called a timeout to regroup the Lancers. 

“In the timeout, coach told us to relax, stay calm and worry about this next point, not the whole game and to just play our game,” Bonca said. 

Soliguen’s pep talk worked, as the Lancers earned the point and side out, stopping the Eagles’ six-point run out of the timeout. 

However, McCune was still a threat, and Sunny Hills found itself in a rut again after consecutive unforced errors, giving the Eagles up to a four-point lead in the middle of the set. 

“Some challenges we faced during the game were definitely dealing with one of the hitters on the [opposing] team who could basically hit over our blocks,” Vlad said. “It seemed hard at first, but as soon as we realized that one good player doesn’t make a winning team, we found a way out.”

At 14-17, a missed serve from Arroyo Grande’s libero sophomore Jack Canigiula gave the Lancers a chance to overcome their deficit and re-take the lead. 

Outside hitter sophomore Ryan Mesnik took this opportunity and went on a three-point serving run to tie the game once again at 17.

“Getting momentum to get back in the game is important,” Mesnik said. “I just think of keeping [the serve] in so that our team can take care of the rest.”

From there, the Lancers and Eagles went back and forth until outside hitter senior Zachary Tan registered a crafty tip kill to give his team a two-point lead at 21-19. The Eagles called timeout immediately after. 

“Being coachable is one of our pillars in the program,” Soliguen said while explaining that being adaptable during a match is what he preaches to his team the most. “A lot of our guys are really receptive to feedback, and ultimately, we value communication because that’s a part of being coachable.”

The Lancers prevailed in the tight set, ending it with a kill from Mesnik. 

Entering the third set with only one more to take before being able to advance to the second round, Sunny Hills started with confidence. The teams once again went back and forth with their scores until the Lancers gained momentum and the lead with a whole team effort.

“The most important thing tonight was being coachable during the moment and adapting our defense, which is one of our strengths,” Soliguen said. “I believe that our players did a really good job adapting and adjusting to the feedback that I was giving them, which was very critical to winning this game.”

Strong defense by Vlad, Bonca and libero freshman Payton Yang, dominating offense by Mesnik and Tan, and consistent sets from Filadelfia helped the Lancers close out the match to advance to the regional semifinals Thursday, May 19, at Tesoro High School – a neutral court. 

The Lancers will face another team at 6 p.m. named the Eagles in Capistrano Valley Christian (28-10), seeded No. 1 in the tournament and runners-up in CIF-SS Division 4.

“Moving forward, [we’re] going [to continue focusing on] serve receive and defense because that’s one of our biggest strengths,” the coach said.