Oilers all about team unity

HB Independent

They are the top-ranked team in Orange County, yet as individuals they have tended to fly under the radar.

Opposite hitter Nick Siegle, middle blocker Tyler Kulakowski, outside hitter Nick Iorfino and libero Eric Bartlett are four senior team captains, yet they don't see all that much individual publicity. The Huntington Beach High boys' volleyball team isn't even really getting the love outside the county.

Despite their top ranking in the county, the Oilers are ranked No. 7 in the CIF Southern Section Division I coaches' poll, behind OC teams Corona del Mar (No. 2), Esperanza (No. 4), Newport Harbor (No. 5) and Edison (No. 6). Each of those teams have arguably higher-profile players than the Oilers. Yet, somehow, it's all good.

Coach Craig Pazanti knows exactly what he's got.

"They're not the glory hogs," Pazanti said of his seniors. "They just want to win. It's just a pretty hard-working group of guys."

Huntington Beach (23-4) is surging toward the playoffs. The Oilers, who won the Orange County Championships in mid-March, clinched their second straight Sea View League title by topping El Toro Tuesday night. They have won 10 straight matches since losing to Edison in four games March 24, a match Iorfino called "a reawakening."

"We were kind of the underdog for a lot of the year," Iorfino said. "We had high aspirations, but we weren't really sure how well we were going to compete."

They've competed just fine; they're No. 12 in the nation according to the ESPN Rise Fab 50 rankings. And every night, there may seem to be a new leader.

A four-game win over Laguna Beach last Friday was a good test for the Oilers. It also showed their team strength; the UCLA-bound Siegle had 13 kills, and Long Beach State-bound Kulakowski and UC San Diego-bound Iorfino added 10 each. Bartlett, in his second full-time match as libero, had 21 digs and four service aces.

The last two years, Huntington Beach had players who were "the guy." In 2008, it was senior outside Tony Ciarelli, who now starts for USC, in longtime coach Rocky Ciarelli's final season. Last year, it was libero Charlie Condron, the Co-MVP of the league.

But this year, it's always going to take a team effort.

"A lot of different teams have these star players, that one guy that's their go-to guy," Siegle said. "Our team is more well-rounded. We have a balanced offense."

At times, that even makes it interesting for Pazanti himself.

"It makes us harder to defend," he said, laughing. "We don't always know where it's going to go, so it's harder for the other team to know."

They are all good friends; Iorfino, Bartlett and Kulakowski all play club for Balboa Bay. Last year, Iorfino and Kulakowski were on the Balboa Bay 17s team that won gold at the Junior Olympics.

The senior quartet are also natural leaders on a team that also starts a pair of freshmen, in middle blocker Andrew Tenbrink and libero Matt Butler.

The seniors want to go out big their senior year, too. Huntington Beach has lost in the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs the past two years. In 2009, it was a sweep at the hands of Mira Costa.

"I think the goal every year is to win CIF," Siegle said. "I just want to go as far as we can and never stop trying. I mean, if we lose, I don't want to lose because we had a bad game. I want to lose because we got beaten by a great team."

It goes unsaid by Siegle, but the Oilers also have become a great team. Now, they know it.

"Together, they kind of create something bigger than just the parts," Pazanti said.

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