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Huntington Beach boys’ volleyball rallies over Westlake into CIF quarterfinals

Huntington Beach boys’ volleyball rallies over Westlake into CIF quarterfinals
Huntington Beach High's Aidan Knipe (7) sets in the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs against Westlake on Thursday. (Christine Cotter)

The Huntington Beach High boys' volleyball team has now reached the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs for six straight seasons.

The sixth year definitely wasn't easy.

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Huntington Beach had to rally from a two-set deficit Thursday night at home, but the Oilers did so, earning a 23-25, 20-25, 25-19, 25-23, 15-11 second-round win over Westlake.

"These guys never quit," Huntington Beach coach Craig Pazanti said. "It would have been easy for them to quit down 0-2, but they kept battling and fighting through it. We just found our groove."

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The first three years of the current quarterfinal streak, no one could touch the Oilers. Huntington Beach earned the Division 1 title from 2013-15. That streak ended two years ago, when Huntington Beach was upset by Corona del Mar in five sets in a quarterfinal match. The Oilers were again bounced from the playoffs in the quarterfinals last year, at Oak Park.

For the second time in three years, CdM stands in the way of Huntington Beach advancing to the semifinals. This time, the Oilers will play the No. 3-seeded Sea Kings in a quarterfinal match at home on Saturday. CdM swept Canyon 25-12, 25-16, 25-20 in another second-round match on Thursday.

Huntington Beach (27-5) earned the chance of meeting CdM for the second time this season with its comeback win over Westlake (20-10). Senior captain Mitchell Bollinger had 25 kills, while sophomore Sinjin Choi had 12 kills, including five in the decisive fifth set. Senior opposite Hunter Dickey had 11 kills for the Oilers.

"[Bollinger] is super-feisty," Pazanti said. "We put him in that spot a lot this year, where everybody knows he's getting it and we're going to give it to him anyway … But we also had a couple of other guys step up tonight, with Hunter Dickey and Sinjin Choi."

The first set was tied 12 different times, but the Warriors made the plays at the end to win it after Huntington Beach's Dickey tied it for the final time at 23-23.

First, the Warriors' UC San Diego-bound senior setter Blake Crisp successfully executed his only dump of the match to bring up set point. Westlake converted it, on Gianluca Lucchina's big block on Bollinger.

Westlake won set two and seemed to be on its way to a sweep in set three. The Warriors opened up a 14-9 lead on five straight points served by Crisp, a run that included three service aces.

But Huntington Beach would rally. Give credit to tough serving at the end of the set by Oilers sophomore Tyler Warren. From 18-18 in the third set, Warren served six straight points to give Huntington Beach its first set point. The hosts would convert their second set point, on a kill by Bollinger.

More of those were coming late in the fourth set, to help Huntington Beach rally from a 20-17 deficit late. Bollinger's kills accounted for his team's last four points, as Huntington Beach won the set 25-23 to extend the match to five sets.

Thursday's match was Huntington Beach's third straight five-set match. They have won all of them, including a nonleague regular-season finale at Manhattan Beach Mira Costa on May 2 and Tuesday's first-round Division 1 win at Laguna Beach.

"It's not the easiest thing in the world [for a coach]," Pazanti said, "but I'd rather have three five-set wins than three five-set losses."

The Oilers opened an 8-5 lead in the fifth set, prompting a Westlake timeout. They never trailed in the final set, booking their sixth straight trip to the quarterfinals on another Bollinger kill.

"These guys just need to believe in themselves and play hard," Pazanti said. "We come out and give everything we have, that's all we can ask for.

"[The quarterfinal streak] was in jeopardy tonight, and it was in jeopardy on Tuesday night. I think the biggest thing is, when these guys come to school here, they know the history. When they put that jersey on that says Huntington Beach, they expect that we're going to be a successful volleyball program."

The Oilers lost their first meeting with CdM this year, when they fell in the semifinals of the Orange County Championships on March 17.

Twitter: @mjszabo

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