Costa Mesa High and Estancia had their fair share of struggles during the nonleague boys’ volleyball season.
The records bear that out, but they had a chance to change the overall tenor of their seasons when they met for an early Orange Coast League match on Thursday night.
Opposite Jonathan Barton had 12 kills and six blocks to lead the host Mustangs to a 21-25, 25-17, 25-14, 25-21 win in the opening match of the Battle for the Bell series.
The Mustangs improved to 6-9 overall and 2-0 in the league, changing the trajectory of the campaign after the nonleague slate had seen Costa Mesa drop as many as six matches in a row.
Mustangs coach Todd Hanson said that sickness and injury played a part in the slow start, as well as his players’ involvement in multiple extracurricular activities.
“We’ve got great well-rounded kids, but unfortunately, then we’re sharing,” Hanson said. “We’ve missed so many practices up until now that this is the first week that we’ve gotten everyone together, and we had an amazing week of practice.
“We came out strong against Santa Ana, and we knew, no matter what [Estancia’s] record was, they were going to play us tough. It’s the Bell game. We took care of business, and I’m so proud of these guys.”
Costa Mesa’s Andrew Pham had 31 assists and six digs, and outside hitter Zach Fletcher had eight kills and five blocks.
Prior to league, Costa Mesa had just one win in a best-of-five match that did not go the distance. Pham is encouraged by the fact that his team has been able to put together some consistency in league matches.
“I’m very happy that we were able to close out quickly,” Pham said. “We kept it up. Our bodies get tired after day after day, playing five sets, so it was really a relief to see us close out in less than five.”
A number of unorthodox plays were witnessed by those in attendance at the rivalry match. On the Costa Mesa side, Joe Paxson punched the ball over while lying on his backside, and Landon Stein head-butted the ball in serve receive, making an adequate pass.
In addition, Eli Elliott twice recorded a kill when he was facing his own back row during an attacking swing.
“It was really interesting seeing that,” Ethan Elliott said of taking in his twin brother’s reverse tip shots. “He’s done that before in different games also.”
Elliott finished with six kills and seven blocks, and JP Trujillo chipped in with 10 digs.
Estancia dropped to 2-15 overall and 0-2 in the league, although the Eagles put together several stretches of strong play. Even when they were down in sets, the Eagles continued to take their swings.
Left-handed opposite Arthur Bishop shined among the Eagles, making a case to be considered the best player on the floor. He had 19 kills, seven digs and five service aces.
“At some moments, it really does feel like that,” Eagles coach Alejandro De Mendoza said of Bishop standing out in the match. “We rely on him a lot to produce for us, and he does a great job, only being a junior.
“He mostly plays basketball year-round, so it’s nice to have that guy to fall back to.”
Luke Hutchinson finished with 35 assists to go with six digs. Ryan Ray and Nathan Sweet each had five kills, and Max Perez added nine digs for Estancia.