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Breakers gain valuable experience in setbacks

It’s only the end of the first week of the regular season but already, the Laguna Beach High boys’ volleyball team has faced one of its most challenging stretches of their new season.

The Breakers played three consecutive matches Tuesday through Thursday, and each was on the road. They went to Edison on Tuesday, Huntington Beach on Wednesday and then made the long trek Thursday to North Hollywood to battle Harvard Westlake.

In the first two matches, Laguna took Edison and Huntington to the limit but in both instances, dropped a five-game match.

The result from the Harvard Westlake game wasn’t available at press time.

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Although the Breakers dropped their first two matches of the season, Coach Lance Stewart says both will help out his young team — senior outside hitter Blair Bigelow and junior setter Clay Knapp are the only returning starters — in the long run.

“I think both matches will go a long way in making us a better team,” Stewart said. “When you get to a fifth game, as we did against both Edison and Huntington, everything matters. You can’t simulate that in practice. We gained valuable experience, in that regard.

“We’re still a semi-inexperienced team, still trying out so many different things.”

In the season opener for both teams Tuesday, Edison outlasted Laguna, 26-24, 25-21, 26-28, 19-25, 16-14. Shawn Merz had 15 kills and six digs and Knapp 31 set assists for the Breakers.

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The Breakers were in a similar situation Wednesday against Huntington. They dropped the first game, won both the second and fourth but dropped the decisive fifth game as the Oilers took a 27-25, 14-25, 25-21, 23-25, 15-12 win.

In the opening game, the teams traded points until Laguna went on a 5-0 run to take a 16-12 lead. Huntington responded with a 6-0 tear of its own to go in front, 17-16. The teams traded points the remainder of the game and Laguna had game point at 24-23 but couldn’t finish.

The Breakers easily won the second game in which they led wire-to-wire. They opened up a seven-point lead (13-6) before Huntington rallied to within 15-12 but then rolled off the next seven points to win going away.

Michael Kahl had a pair of aces, the Oilers three service errors and Merz ended the game on a big kill.

As Laguna had done in game No. 2, Huntington led the entire way in the third game. The Oilers opened up a 19-11 lead before the Breakers made a late charge to pull to within 22-19, but couldn’t complete the comeback.

Laguna also trailed by four early in the fourth game but pulled even with the Oilers at 11-11. The teams were tied again at 12 before the Breakers slowly began to pull away, reaching a 21-16 lead on a kill by Knapp. Huntington rallied to within a point but a kill by Merz ended the game.

In the fifth game, Laguna led 4-2 and the score was tied on four occasions before a kill by Alex Tonjes gave the Oilers the lead for good at 11-10.

Kahl had 12 kills and 10 digs, Merz 13 kills, Knapp 46 assists and Cooper Gwaltney a team-high 14 kills.

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“We’re very, very happy with were we are heading,” Stewart said.

“I thought our defense got better tonight than last night against Edison. I’m pleased with our effort.”

The Breakers play their home opener at 6 p.m. Wednesday against Newport Harbor.


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