Men’s volleyball: OCC clinches Orange Empire Conference crown

By hitting all its familiar mileposts along the way, the Orange Coast College men’s volleyball team continues to blaze a new trail.

The Pirates dispatched visiting Irvine Valley, 25-14, 25-22, 22-25, 25-20, on Wednesday to clinch the inaugural Orange Empire Conference title.

The win was also the 16th in a row for Coach Travis Turner’s Pirates (17-1, 7-0 in conference), ranked No. 1 in the state.

With the conference finale at last-place Santiago Canyon on Friday, OCC appears to be a lock to own the No. 1 seed for the state playoffs, in which they will play host for a Southern California regional match on April 21. A win there would propel the Pirates into the state semifinals, April 27 at Los Angeles Pierce College.

“We did not get beat by a worse team, that’s for sure,” IVC Coach Tom Pestolesi said. “[The Pirates] are super aggressive with their serving and they don’t care if they miss. And, in the long run, they make enough to put too much pressure on you. They are good, they can score at every position and they are well-coached.”

Turner was pleased with his team’s performance Wednesday, but said he wouldn’t be surprised if the No. 2-ranked Lasers (14-3, 5-2) earn a potential rematch in the state final, April 29.

“We played well,” Turner said. “[The Lasers] played better than the last time [an OCC road sweep on March 24], and we kind of rose to the challenge, which is kind of what this team has done all year.”

Jordan Hoppe led the winners with 20 kills, while fellow sophomore outside hitter Justin Kam added 18.

Sophomore middle blockers Austin Marriott (nine kills and four block assists) and Bradley Hankus (two solo blocks and seven block assists) sparkled, while setters Colby Elder (26 assists) and Jacob Gilliam (22) kept the Pirates firing on all cylinders.

Freshman libero Chase Moothart, who had two of the Pirates’ five ace serves, also earned praise from Turner for his all-around work in the back row.

“This was a huge win,” Hankus said. “We clinched conference right there and hopefully the No. 1 seed for the playoffs, against a really tough opponent.”

Hankus was happy with his play, which he said fit into the plan of everyone handling their own contribution.

“We’re really a well-balanced team and I don’t think anyone has to try to push outside their limits,” Hankus said. “When you try to do too much, that’s when errors happen. When we just stay together as a team and play inside our abilities, we’re fine.”

OCC trailed only once (3-2) in the opening set and overcame a 15-13 deficit (the Lasers’ biggest lead) in the second set to take command.

IVC led throughout the third set, and took a 7-4 advantage in the deciding game. But OCC scored four straight to pull even and never trailed again to earn the first OEC banner, after years in the Pacific Coast Conference.

Playoff pairings will be announced on Saturday.