Fountain Valley boys’ volleyball denied by Los Alamitos in bid for outright Wave League crown

Los Alamitos' Adrian Parra (9) tips the ball against Fountain Valley in a Wave League boys' volleyball match.
Los Alamitos’ Adrian Parra (9) tips the ball against Fountain Valley in a Wave League boys’ volleyball match on Thursday.
(James Carbone)

The elation that had greeted the day, one that promised, hope assured, to be something truly special, had drifted into a resigned acceptance by the close of Fountain Valley’s opportunity Thursday evening to claim an outright Wave League boys’ volleyball championship.

The Barons had not arrived in their best guise and never appeared, no matter how tight the margin, to challenge enduring Wave League power Los Alamitos. The 25-23, 25-20, 25-18 home defeat was baffling.

“It wasn’t us tonight,” Fountain Valley coach Rebecca Cheltenham offered.

Fountain Valley (21-5, 4-1) is still in line to win a share of the Wave League crown, the program’s first league title in 20 years, unless something crazy happens in next week’s finales. And then there’s the promise, if on its game, of contending for the CIF Southern Section Division 3 championship.

Fountain Valley's Bennett Heydorn (15) spikes past Los Alamitos' Tanner Lugenbuehl and Mason Lubary (10) on Thursday.
(James Carbone)

“It’s a huge disappointment,” said outside hitter Thomas Ho, one of the Barons’ two senior leaders. “But we still get the co-league champ title, so it isn’t too bad. I feel like we didn’t play our best, but what can you do? Some days we’re on, some days we’re off. Today, we definitely didn’t show up like how we normally do, or else we would have definitely taken the title.”

They ought to claim their share, and maybe more, and Los Alamitos (12-15, 4-1) its portion, in home games Wednesday. Fountain Valley takes on Laguna Beach (3-14, 0-5), which has captured just six sets all season — all in tournament play on Feb. 17 — and has dropped a dozen consecutive straight-set decisions. The Griffins have a tougher test, against Marina (10-14, 2-3), which took them to five games in mid-March.

Los Alamitos, which won the first three Wave League titles after the Sunset League split in 2018 and last year was on the superior Surf League side of the conference, was in charge from the start, a few tense moments aside, and trailed after just 11 of the 136 rallies in the romp. They were dominant at the net, sharper with the ball, and far more assertive.

Fountain Valley boys' volleyball coach Rebecca Cheltenham talks with her players during a time out on Thursday.
(James Carbone)

“We didn’t come out with the right mindset. I’m not sure what mindset it was ...,” said Cheltenham, who in two years has guided Fountain Valley, hardly a power beforehand, to a 43-12 record, two victories over the Griffins (after one in 17 league meetings over the previous eight seasons), into last year’s Division 3 quarterfinals, and to the No. 2 spot in the current Division 3 rankings.

“We couldn’t figure out a way to be consistent in the back line, but more so in our hitting and blocking. [Los Al] did a good job at swinging, and we had a hard time stopping them, a hard time slowing them down.”

Ho, who said the team came in “a little intimidated” and failed to “play together,” delivered a game-best 13 kills, but the Barons lacked other weapons. Ivy League-bound opposite Bennett Heydorn, their other leader and usually a force at the net, was diminished after working on a school assignment until almost dawn and getting little sleep before school. He contributed seven kills, but Cheltenham pulled him for the third set.

“It’s hard when your key players aren’t on,” she said. “You’ve got to have them all on.”

The Fountain Valley boys' volleyball team celebrates a point against Los Alamitos on Thursday.
(James Carbone)

Los Alamitos, led by outside hitters Jette Estes (10 kills) and Enzo Kerley (six kills, two blocks, three service aces) and middle blocker Adrian Parra (nine kills, four blocks), used big, mostly early runs to take command in each set.

The Griffins dropped a five-set decision, with just two points separating the teams over the duration, in the first meeting three weeks earlier. This time they didn’t falter, weathering a late Fountain Valley rally in the opening set (a five-point lead whittled to 24-23, the last point on an Alec Pinedjian ace, before the Barons hit long on the final rally) .

“We beat them last time because everyone had a great game,” Cheltenham said. “I think maybe they were a little off [in that game], and they had a great, fantastic day tonight, and we had people who were a little off. That’s the reality. It’s going to be good for us going into CIF continuing to understand that we have to show up. That’s what I keep telling them.”

Los Alamitos' Noah Igo (12) blocks a ball against Fountain Valley in a Wave League boys' volleyball match on Thursday.
(James Carbone)

The dissatisfaction will pay off, Ho said.

“Now we’re working 10 times harder, I promise you,” he said. “I promise you we’re working 10 times harder. We’re going to be in the gym, we’re practicing probably longer, we’re going to get everyone on a gym plan right now, and we’re going to show at CIF, for sure.”