LA CAÑADA — Thanks to a friendly homecourt advantage, a key absence and the power of hitters Trip Westmoreland and Dante Fregoso, the Flintridge Prep boys’ volleyball team took a big step toward defending its Prep League championship.
The Rebels came within a point of pulling off a sweep, but settled for a 25-21, 25-21, 26-28, 25-17 victory over the visiting Dolphins to go undefeated through the first round of league play on Tuesday afternoon in a meeting of the league’s last two champions.
“I wasn’t really happy with the way we played in the third game,” Rebels Coach Sean Beattie said. “When you have a chance to close someone out the way we did, leading 24-20, you have to do that.
“But, having said that, I’m happy with the way we responded in the fourth game, that was key. I know Chadwick was missing their big guy, their setter, but it’s good to get that win.”
With the victory, the CIF Southern Section Division IV fifth-ranked Rebels improved to 12-4 this season and are 4-0 in league, a match ahead of now second-place Chadwick (10-2, 3-1).
Perhaps one of the little known advantages the Rebels own at home is their low ceiling, which particularly played havoc on the Dolphins on Tuesday.
Chadwick hit into either the ceiling or cross beam directly above center court seven times, which often stunted the team’s progress.
Such was the case in the clinching fourth game, when Chadwick attempted to rally from a quick 3-1 hole and pulled to within 8-7 on a combo block from Ryan Apfel and Xavier Proctor.
On the very next possession, Dolphins junior Connor Lucier popped up a low dig that appeared destined for a potentially game-tying and momentum-shifting kill.
Yet, the ball smacked directly off the ceiling and right to the floor, which cost Chadwick a valuable point.
Flintridge Prep seized momentum off the play to score six of the next 10 points in taking a 16-11 lead on a kill from 6-foot-4 sophomore outside hitter Dante Fregoso, who led all players with 22 kills, 22 digs and two aces.
“We knew this was a big match,” Fregoso said. “Coach had told us that we needed to take advantage of the situation and we did that at the end of the game.”
Up five, the Rebels held off a mini surge from the Dolphins, who pulled within 18-16 on a Rebels’ attacking error.
Yet, Flintridge Prep closed out the match on a 7-1 run with the final point coming on a block attempt of Fregoso by Proctor that ricocheted off the ceiling back into play for the game-clincher.
“Flintridge Prep really has a great homecourt advantage here with their low ceilings,” said Dolphins Coach Michael Cass, who was without star setter Jack Lenihan (previous commitment). “It was like deja vu for me. Last year, our last match with Flintridge Prep ended on a ceiling shot.”
The Rebels led, 14-9, in the first game, only to see Chadwick storm ahead, 21-20.
Flintridge Prep didn’t fall apart, though, and instead watched the Dolphins commit five straight errors in losing, 25-21.
The score was identical for the second game, while the circumstances differed as the Rebels rebounded from a 12-10 deficit with a 7-2 run fueled by four kills from Westmoreland.
The contest should have likely been a sweep, as the Rebels charged ahead to a 24-20 match-point lead in the third game.
This time, Flintridge Prep followed with gaffes on three of its next four possessions and the Dolphins rallied to tie at 24.
Lucier, who led Chadwick with 19 kills, eventually delivered the game-winning kill to secure Chadwick’s 28-26 win.
“We lost focus and we relaxed a little in the third and Chadwick made its move,” said Westmoreland, who finished with 14 kills and four blocks. “We focused again in the fourth game and it was over.”
Libero Zack Picker added 17 digs for Flintridge Prep, while setter Aldridge Khin tallied 43 assists.
Follow Andrew J. Campa on Twitter: @campadresports.