Travis Woloson and his teammates weren't about to let a golden opportunity slip away.
No, not again.
A year after being eliminated from title contention in the same round, the Laguna Beach High boys' volleyball team found itself trailing visiting Thousand Oaks, 2-1 in games Tuesday, in the Division II semifinal round of the CIF Southern Section-Toyota Volleyball Championships.
The Breakers had their collective backs to the wall at Dugger Gym but did settle down to get back into their own game.
A heated and passionate pep talk, before the start of Game Four, did the trick.
"We knew we weren't playing up to our capabilities and just had to play a lot better. It was that simple," said Woloson, a senior setter for the Breakers. "We just had to step up and take control on our court, and we did that. We started to play better in that fourth game, especially on defense, and our crowd as awesome. We all feed off each other and the emotion from the crowd."
Laguna parlayed a new-found sense of urgency to rebound from a game down, did take control of the fourth game from the start, then assumed command from the get-go in the fifth and decisive game, to come away with a 19-25, 25-13, 24-26, 25-20, 15-11 victory over a young, tenacious Lancers team that didn't have a single senior on its roster.
The win catapults Laguna into Saturday's Division II championship match at Cypress College. The Breakers will face defending champion Westlake at 4:30 p.m.
Saturday is also Prom Night for Laguna.
"I'm really excited for the boys, to be playing for a CIF championship," Laguna Coach Lance Stewart said. "I've been there before, but they haven't. It's just an amazing experience. How many times, really, does a high school athlete, get to perform in a championship-type of setting, on a stage like this? Not very often. I just want the boys to relish this opportunity, to remember it."
Stewart was a member of the 1981 Laguna squad that won a CIF 4A (Division I) championship, the first of three consecutive titles for the program and its fifth, overall. The 1983 season, in which Laguna played in Division III and was the final year of a three-year, dominating run, is the last time a Laguna team has won CIF.
The school's last finals appearance was in 1999.
Saturday will mark the program's ninth trip to the finals.
"This is what we've been aiming for all year," Breakers senior outside hitter Scottie Chapel said. "It's been our goal since Day 1. I feel we can win this thing. We just need to stay within our game and when we do that, when we serve well and play tough on defense, we're unstoppable."
In Tuesday's win over Thousand Oaks, Laguna trailed just once in Game Four (5-4) but went on a nice, 5-0 run that ignited the crowd. The Breakers, who never led by less than three points the rest of the game, fed off that energy from its supporters and went on to wrap up a 25-20 victory on a big kill by Woloson.
In the decisive game, Laguna took a 1-0 lead on a kill by Chapel and Woloson posted three kills of his own, to push the Breakers' lead to 5-1. Woloson later capped a 15-11 win and secured a finals date with a kill that deflected off the hands of Thousand Oaks junior Austin Kingi, who played an outstanding match, and out of bounds.
The eruption then was ignited on the Laguna bench and in the bleachers.
"What a great show that was for volleyball fans," Stewart said. "It was just a great match. Congratulations to Thousand Oaks which did a great job and played tough. We, on the other hand, didn't play our best match of the season, but tonight, it was our guttiest. I told our guys at the beginning of the year that we'd have to win a five-game match, and tonight was that night. We might even have another one on Saturday."
Woloson was on fire during the match, and finished with a game-high 27 kills. Chapel had 13 kills and junior Alex Burk nine kills. Junior Robbie McKnight and Woloson recorded 39 and 13 assists, respectively.
"I thought Robbie McKnight was terrific tonight," Stewart said. "We switched from a 6-2 scheme, to a 5-1 for the first time, when the score was tied (5-5) in the second game. We lost a point on our first attempt in the 5-1, but I told he and Travis, that it was OK. They then did a nice job of adapting to it, and Robbie just did a great job the rest of the way."
Laguna was able to advance to Tuesday's semifinal round for the 18th time in school history after settling a year-long score with Royal. Last Saturday, the Breakers, who were eliminated from postseason play by Royal in a semifinal loss last May, routed the host Highlanders, 25-13, 25-21, 25-18, in a quarterfinal game. Woloson led the Laguna charge with 15 kills and McKnight had 26 assists.