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Battle of the Titans

Posted: May 24, 2008 2:35 a.m.
Updated: July 25, 2008 5:04 a.m.

In the 1980's, late May meant that basketball rivals the Celtics and the Lakers were preparing to face against one another in the NBA championships.

In the early part of the 2000's, it has meant that the rival boys volleyball teams from Valencia and Santa Barbara are preparing to face off in another playoff matchup.

2008 is no different. For the third time this season the Vikings will take on the Dons, and this time it is for all the marbles. The season series and a CIF Southern Section Division II crown.

Tonight, Valencia rolls into the finals for the seventh time in the last eight years with only two losses, and an impressive 34 wins including one already over Santa Barbara.

The first four rounds of the playoffs have provided little problems for the Vikings, however, there will be some added pressure tonight as it is no ordinary match. Both teams are looking for that exclusive championship ring.

"We are excited," said Valencia head coach Mark Knudsen. "There is maybe some nervousness, but they are confident kids. They have competed at a lot of levels and they have worked at this for two years and we are just excited as a team to be here and we want to play a good game."

Just a year ago the Vikings fell in four games to the Dons in the semi-final round coming up just a match short of the title game. This year, playoff revenge will add extra motivation - as if a division crown wouldn't be enough.

Leading that charge will be senior co-captain Jamey Ker, part of the last Vikings championship team. From the beginning of the season, Ker made it clear that there was only one real goal for the Valencia volleyball team and that was a Division crown.

The only other title game experience will come from another senior Jake Piva who also played in 2006 - the last Valencia title team.

Valencia has advanced to the finals thanks to four straight wins starting out with a sweep of Irvine, then following with sweeps of Villa Park and Claremont. The semifinals saw the Vikings take on Dos Pueblos at Valencia high.

In the last round, the semi-finals, Valencia topped Dos Pueblos in four games, dropping its only set of the playoffs in the third game. That lone loss, however, might turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

"Just because we beat a team doesn't mean we can always beat a team," Knudsen said. "You have to keep it up and I hope dos pueblos taught us that. You can't take it for granted if you win one game."

That game also taught Knudsen another lesson. Instead of going with his regular lineup in game one, he tried something new. Clearly, it worked about as well as his regular rotation.

"Both lineups worked great," he said. "That gives me confidence that either way we can play well in the final."

Santa Barbara will be looking for some revenge as they fell in 2007 to Corona Del Mar in the finals after topping Valencia in the semi-finals a year ago.

Now, both teams turn their attention to the finals, and with the Vikings playing so well, Knudsen believes that a solid match is what they need to pull off a fourth crown in eight years.

"We match up really well with them," Knudsen said. "If we can play a good game of volleyball I think we can come out on top.


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