Sage Hill boys’ volleyball into CIF finals for first time

Sage Hill's Jackson Cryst (12), seen against Fullerton on April 25, had 24 kills versus Flintridge Prep on Saturday.
Sage Hill’s Jackson Cryst (12), seen against Fullerton on April 25, had 24 kills and three blocks versus Flintridge Prep in a CIF Southern Section Division 5 semifinal on Saturday.
(James Carbone)
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Sage Hill’s fourth time on court this postseason was its swiftest, the Lightning moving quickly to advance to the first CIF Southern Section boys’ volleyball championship match in program history.

Junior outside hitter Jackson Cryst had 24 kills and three total blocks, as the Lightning dismissed La Cañada Flintridge Prep 25-20, 25-17, 25-16 on Saturday in a Division 5 semifinal at home.

Sage Hill (21-8) will meet Rio Hondo League co-champion San Marino (24-6-1) in the CIF finals on May 11 at Cerritos College. The fourth-seeded Titans were 25-23, 25-19, 25-23 winners over Oxnard Rio Mesa in the other semifinal.


The Lightning now have a good problem to have, as the school’s prom will land on the same day as the finals.

“They know where their priorities lie,” Sage Hill coach Shelby Young said. “One thing at a time — the game first, and then the dance.”

Front-row defense figured prominently into a dominant showing from the Lightning. Sage Hill had seven blocks as a team, including three each from senior middle blocker Johnny Mayhew and Cryst.

It made life easier on the Lightning passers, which in turn helped out senior setter Brayden Brien, who dished out 39 assists. Brien said Mayhew saw his most significant role of the playoffs in the semifinals.

“Johnny stepped up really well,” Brien said. “He’s probably going to get more playing time in the finals, given that he played so well today. I was able to set him really well, and Johnny just had so many amazing blocks.”

Mayhew said the team feeds off the energy of teammates, an element that travels with them away from home. It was evident in a playoff-opening win at Fullerton.

“I think we feed off mostly the bench energy and our energy on the court,” Mayhew said. “It’s not every game we have a lot of fans, so I think our bench energy is the most important part because it helps us play better with more intensity.”

Sophomore outside hitters Connor Gapp and Ryan Manesh had nine kills and six kills, respectively. Senior middle blocker Darian Hanjan had four kills and a block assist.

“I think we’ve been clicking the whole time,” Cryst said. “It’s just adjusting to that playoff mentality and understanding, ‘Hey, it’s everybody’s last game of their season, and we’re shooting to end their season,’ so obviously, they’re not just going to roll over, especially in that third set. You really have to focus. I think this game, we did that super well.”

Sage Hill did not drop a set for the first time this postseason, demonstrating an urgency that Young would like to see more of.

“Overall, that was the challenge for them,” Young said. “We don’t need to play and battle if we don’t need to battle. Go finish. Go finish a game.”

Freshman opposite Nicholas Smith had a team-leading nine kills for Flintridge Prep (18-10). Sophomore outside hitter Kyle Yun added nine kills.