Boys' Volleyball: Laguna to play for CIF title

The Laguna Beach High boys' volleyball team will play for a CIF Southern Section championship.

The Breakers earned that honor Wednesday by handling No. 2-seeded El Segundo, sweeping the visiting Eagles, 25-17, 25-19, 25-21, in a Division 2 semifinal at Dugger Gym.

The victory sends third-seeded Laguna on to the Division 3 title match. The Breakers will take on fourth-seeded Esperanza Saturday at 2 p.m. at Cerritos College in Norwalk.

Esperanza, the defending Division 2 champion, went on the road in Wednesday's other division semifinal and took down top-seeded San Marcos in five sets.

"It feels great to be playing for a title," said Darren Utterback, who is taking the Breakers to the title match in his first year as head coach. "These kids did an amazing job tonight."

The Breakers (24-5) did just that. They trailed only twice against El Segundo (26-6), both instances (1-0, 5-4) coming at the outset of the first set, and went on to control all three sets against the Pioneer League champion.

Orange Coast League champion Laguna was solid in its play selection, set and passed extremely well, and came up with several powerful kill shots throughout the match.

Add to the fire that they performed in front of a full house and were backed an extremely boisterous and supportive home crowd, the Breakers played as though they were unbeatable.

"For how good we were tonight, the most impressive thing, to me, was our fans," Utterback said. "They were so great.

"When you get to the semis and have a crowd on hand like this, it really pumps up a team. We stayed on [El Segundo] all night and never gave them a break, and the crowd was right there behind us. I couldn't be more proud of our guys. That's a good team they beat."

Laguna pulled away from El Segundo midway through the first set. The Breakers went from a 6-6 tie score into a 15-10 lead. The set ended on a kill down the right side by junior opposite Jack Burgi.

The Breakers led from 3-2 onward in the second set, and wire-to-wire in the final set, to finish the match.

The score was tied (2-2) in the second set when a net violation by El Segundo set in motion a quick run by Laguna. They went into an 8-3 lead when senior outside hitter Jake Hexberg sent a shot to the back row and off the arm of the Eagles' Edward Karrer, and went back up again by five (10-5) when senior middle blocker Noah Blanton came up with a big block at the net.

A pair of right-side kills by Burgi late gave the Breakers their largest leads of the set at 23-15 and 24-16. A serving error by the Eagles wrapped up a 25-19 Laguna win.

The Breakers cruised along in much of set No. 3, building a 16-10 lead on an ace serve by senior libero JP Wollam, and extended their lead to 20-13 on a kill from the left by senior outside hitter Jack Wyett. El Segundo made a late push to draw within 21-19 on a double block at the net by Steven Moye and Jason Brandlin, but consecutive kills by Wyett allowed Laguna to build its lead to 23-19.

An emphatic kill from the right side by Burgi ended the match.

"Other than a little hiccup in that third set, we pretty much kept at them," Utterback said. "We saw four pieces of film on them, and we knew exactly how they would line up, what they would run. Our guys stayed on them all night."

Burgi had a monstrous match. He had 17 kills in 20 attempts with only one error.

"Outrageous," is how Utterback termed the junior's performance. "You just don't see numbers like that."

Burgi had no idea of the numbers he put up in the match.

"I guess I would call it one of my best matches," he said afterward. "I was kind of in a groove. Now, we get the chance to play for a CIF championship. It'll be the first opportunity for me, and I think we have a great chance."

Wyett was one of several Breakers to turn in a big match, and registered 17 kills. Hexberg had seven kills, senior setters Alec Wulff and Cameron dePfyffer had 23 and 18 assists, respectively, and Blanton finished with nine kills, three block assists, two solo blocks, and a set assist.

A three-year varsity middle blocker, Blanton said he, too, will be playing for a CIF championship for the first time.

"It feels amazing," he said of the opportunity. "Until our last game (a five-set playoff quarterfinal win Monday at Lakewood), I hadn't won a CIF game on the road in either volleyball or basketball, in my career. To win at Lakewood, then come back here and win like this, before a crowd like this, is great. I've never seen a crowd like this here, like the one we had tonight."

Laguna is making its 11th trip to a Southern Section final and the program has won six division championships in qualifying for all 41 years of the boys' volleyball playoffs.

Laguna is back in the Division 2 final for the first time since finishing runner-up to the 2011 title. The 2010 Breakers won the Division 2 championship, adding to program titles won in Division 1 in 1975-77-81-82-83.

In addition to the 2011 season, the program also took the runner-up position in Division 1 in 1978 and 1994, and in Division 3 in 1999.

Laguna and Esperanza will play the final match of the Division 3 tournament a little more than three weeks after the teams ended their regular seasons facing one another in a May 7 nonleague match.

Laguna beat the Aztecs, 3-1, at Dugger Gym.

The Division 2 matchup is the third of five finals scheduled Saturday at Cerritos College. The Division 5 final starts the day at 9 a.m. followed by finals in Division 3 (11:30 a.m.), Division 2 (2 p.m.), Division 4 (4:30 p.m.), and Division 1 (7:30 p.m.).

Cerritos College also is the site Saturday for the CIF Southern Section Track and Field Championships which begin at 11:30 a.m.

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