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CIF boys volleyball: Two teams, one stage

Valencia is back in the CIF semifinals, while W.R. is debuting

Posted: May 15, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: May 15, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Take a good look at that playoff bracket.

See anything unusual?

Yes, three of the top four seeds in the CIF-Southern Section Division II boys volleyball playoffs are still alive headed into the semifinal round.

One of those teams is fourth-seeded Valencia — not a huge shocker.

But what’s with this West Ranch team? Where did it come from?

“The type of story that we’re living right now, it’s sort of a movie type of story,” said West Ranch head coach Nate Sparks.

Fresh off a 3-1 upset of No. 3 seed Laguna Beach at home on Saturday, West Ranch is preparing for its first-ever CIF semifinal match today at second-seeded Corona del Mar of Newport Beach at 7 p.m.

The Wildcats (23-9) have come this far despite finishing second in the Foothill League behind Valencia, which is playing in the bracket’s other semifinal today against top-seeded Oak Park at Oak Park High, also beginning at 7 p.m.

But Valencia, at least according to its seeding, was supposed to be here.

The Vikings (20-13) easily dispatched Knight High and Calvary Chapel in a pair of 3-0 wins in the first two rounds before knocking off Capistrano Valley in a much more competitive 3-1 victory at Valencia High.

Valencia punched its ticket to the semis less than an hour before West Ranch did the same across town.

It’s the first time in the sport that two Foothill League teams have reached the semifinals of the same bracket.

It’s certainly not Valencia’s first time reaching this stage. The Vikings have played in eight previous semifinal matches, holding a record of 7-1.

In seven finals appearances, Valencia has won four CIF championships, all since 2003.

“I talked about what it took (to win a CIF title) and I also let them know that I feel like all the pressure is on Oak Park,” said Valencai head coach Kevin Kornegay. “They’re the No. 1 seed. They’re expected to win. We’re expected to lose, so I’m hoping we can play a little more loose.”

Oak Park (28-6) is an experienced team which controls the ball well and can be very dangerous when it’s in system, Kornegay said.

But while the Vikings come into the day with tradition and prestige on their side, the Wildcats have emotion and swagger to bring to the table.

“Even though (Corona del Mar) is the No. 2 seed, we feel like we’re the favorites,” libero Tanner Williams after Saturday’s match.

The sudden surge of West Ranch has been made possible by a number of factors.

There’s senior setter Anthony Hanna, who is keeping opponents guessing with excellent distribution of the ball.

West Ranch has seen a different kills leader in each of its three playoff wins — Ben Davis, Dalton Peck and Tanner Skabelund, all very capable offensive weapons.

Valencia, on the other hand, has made no mystery of who will lead its attack. Senior outside hitter Eric Ensing knocked down 18 kills against Calvary Chapel and then he set a school record with 34 kills on Saturday against Capistrano Valley.
The previous record was held by Corey Feldt, who coincidentally had 33 kills against the same team in 2001.

Both Valencia and West Ranch will also need to continue to put pressure on the other side of the net with their high-percentage tough serving.

Serving will be vital, Sparks said, so that Corona del Mar (23-6) won’t be able to get its talented middle blockers going.

The good news for the Wildcats? They still have an overall size advantage on the defending Division II champion Sea Kings.

Maintaining high energy and emotion is always key for West Ranch, too.

The team has already dealt with emotional highs and lows in the past year after former teammate and 2011 West Ranch graduate Jonn Flath died last September while training for the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps.

This year’s team has dedicated the season to Flath.

“I know every single guy on the team, they have him in the back of their mind while they’re playing,” Sparks said.

At this point, neither West Ranch nor Valencia is asking the question, “How can we keep this going?”

Now, it’s become, “Why not?”



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