BURBANK — With just one win to account for this season for the Bellarmine-Jefferson High boys' volleyball team, the Providence players might have thought they were in for a quick and easy time when the teams met Monday to renew their annual cross-town rivalry.
That's because as the Guards have struggled, the Pioneers are enjoying a successful campaign. Not only is Providence undefeated in the Liberty League and poised to win its first title in more than a decade and a half, the Pioneers are also ranked No. 10 in the latest CIF Southern Section Division V poll.
But that success seemed to be lost on Bell-Jeff, which barely lost the first game Monday, came back to take the second game and was a point away from a victory in the third game. But the Pioneers were able to regroup and stave off the threat, earning a 25-21, 22-25, 28-26, 25-9 win at Bell-Jeff.
"I know for sure we underestimated them," Providence Coach Josh Eggleston said about his team's approach to its opponent. "This is a game against our rival, Bell-Jeff, and you just can't come out and expect to win just because you might be having a good season."
Providence (12-8) sophomore DJ Cabrera said his team saw the Guards (1-7) earlier in the season in their own Providence Tournament. Unfortunately, the Pioneers were prepared to take on that Bell-Jeff squad.
"But they've improved since then and they play better now," Cabrera said. "When we saw them they weren't very good at all. I don't think we thought it was going to be that hard against them."
The Pioneers were helped in the cause by senior outside hitter Phil Harvey, who gave Providence important points when it needed them. Harvey ended with a match-high 21 kills.
Harvey came up big in the opening game, tallying seven kills. However, despite his efforts, the Guards hung around and trailed by just two points late, 22-20, and 23-21. But the Pioneers were able to win the final two points and take the first game.
It was another tight one in the second game. The Guards took an early lead only to see Providence tie the score at 21 on a Harvey kill.
Undaunted, the Guards rallied and took the lead back when the Pioneers committed a service error on the next possession. A Providence hitting error, a kill by Carlos Meir and a block by Jalen Henry helped Bell-Jeff win the game.
Mier paced the Guards with nine kills, while Henry and Chris Coquia had seven each. Eric Davidians contributed 18 digs.
Bell-Jeff continued its spirited play in the third game and was poised to put the pressure on the Pioneers leading, 24-23. But a Guards hitting error gave the Pioneers new life. The score would be tied twice more before the Pioneers were able to take a 27-26 advantage following a kill by Harvey. On the next point, the Guards played a ball that appeared headed out of bounds and lost the game on a hitting error.
"We've got a bunch of guys from other sports that come together to play volleyball," Bell-Jeff Coach Miguel Segura said. "As you can see, we have some times where we can play very well and we look good. But there are other times where we struggle and we don't look very good at all.
"I think after losing that third game, 28-26, that just took so much out of them that they didn't have a lot left."
The Pioneers were able to cruise to a relatively easy win in the fourth game.
"Give Miguel credit; he's a very good coach, especially with defense," Eggleston said. "Their middles played very well and they forced us to do some different things."