Breakers are title material

Coastline Pilot

In a span of 1 hour, 13 minutes Saturday, the Laguna Beach boys' volleyball team bridged the gap between the present and past.

In the process, the Breakers quenched a long drought for the program.

They did it with several members of the program's storied past and present at Cypress College.

Seventy-three minutes after first serve of the CIF Southern Section Division II championship match, the Breakers put the finishing touches on a surprising sweep of defending-champion Westlake, winning 25-19, 25-23, 25-22. The triumph gave the school its first CIF Southern Section title since 1983.

Twenty-seven years of title futility — years in which the school repeatedly put outstanding teams on the court and made deep postseason runs, only to fall short of the ultimate prize — was swept away.

Laguna Beach thus became a CIF boys' volleyball champion for the sixth time in school history.

The school won its first boys' title in 1975 and its second two years later, both under Coach Mike Duncan. Laguna then had a dominating, three-year CIF run (1981-83) under Coach Bill Ashen that led to its next three section championships.

Senior Travis Woloson was relishing the moment court side Saturday, shortly after the trophy presentation. He said he was in the moment, despite having to head home to get ready for the school's prom that night.

"This is awesome but a little surreal," he said as he clutched the CIF championship plaque tightly under his right arm. "I thought we played well, but I thought it'd be a lot closer than it was. We took it to them early"

Winning a section championship was one of two main goals the Breakers had set for themselves at the season's outset. The second? To capture a Southern California regional division title.

The first step toward that goal came Thursday when the Breakers opened the CIF Southern California Regional Championships at home against Arrowhead Christian.

The score wasn't available at press time. The winner of that game plays for the Division III championship at 3 p.m. Saturday at Irvine Valley College.

"We have another goal left," 6-foot-4 senior middle blocker Reed Thompson said. "It's a great feeling to win CIF, but we know our season isn't over. We're focused now on the regional tournament. I think we'd be the only boys' team in Laguna Beach history to win both."

Thompson, one of three senior starters — the others are Woloson and Scottie Chapel, said team chemistry was the underlying factor in the team's success this year.

The trio is part of a senior class that includes right side Michael Bell, middle blocker Sean Kimball and libero Lance Knapp.

All the seniors had a hand in Saturday's title-game victory.

"Everyone on this team is close," said Thompson, who is heading to the University of Colorado in the fall. "We are friends both on and off the court. We've worked really hard these last four years to reach this point.

"I think what makes this team special is that everyone is flexible. Everyone was in the flow and figured out what their role was. We all played different roles. I'm not a true middle blocker, but an outside hitter. Travis doesn't set in club ball and Robbie (McKnight) doesn't hit. But we all took on these roles for the better of the team. And it worked."

Chapel, a 6-5 outside hitter who will attend Ohio St., said Breakers Coach Lance Stewart painted a picture for the team on what it's like to be playing for a CIF championship.

Laguna hadn't reached a title match since since Coach Shawn Patchell's team reached the finals in 1999.

"Coach telling us that he played on a team that won CIF definitely motivated us and got us prepared for Westlake," Chapel said.

"It's really, really exciting to win a championship. It's a huge deal for our team, coach, myself and our town. Everyone at school and in town has congratulated us on winning CIF. That's a great, great feeling."

Stewart stood at mid-court early Saturday evening, a bit misty-eyed. His Breakers rarely trailed against Westlake — their biggest deficit was two points, which happened on two occasions but not until the third game.

Stewart couldn't help but feel a bit emotional about the big win.

"I'm just so happy for these guys," he said. "These are good kids who worked hard and played hard for one another. They have been a true pleasure to coach. It's pure joy to see them win this."

Stewart was one of several former Laguna players at Saturday's final, and one of three who helped carve out Laguna's legendary volleyball reputation: Stewart, Rudy Dvorak and Leif Hanson all played on the school's undefeated CIF title-winning team in 1981; Dvorak and Hanson also played on the 1982 team that repeated an undefeated season and won another section crown, and Hanson was a member of the 1983 squad that made it a CIF three-peat for the program.

All three — Stewart in '81, Dvorak in '82 and Hanson in '83 — were named State Player of the Year.

"It was great to know that those guys were there rooting us on Saturday," Chapel said of his predecessors.

"We've had several former players watch our games this year and that's a great feeling. We've just had great support from the entire Laguna community."

In Saturday's title match, Laguna established control early in Game 1 and Westlake never really recovered.

The Breakers used several 4-0 runs in the first game, the first of which broke a 4-4 tie and was capped by a kill by Chapel.

The second — also ended by Chapel, this time on a service ace — increased the lead to 14-7. Chapel's second ace of the game capped the final 4-0 run and Laguna went on to win the first game on a Westlake violation at the net.

The Breakers led the majority of the second game only to see the Warriors use a 6-2 spurt, fueled by junior middle blocker Dimitri Gorenc to forge a 14-14 tie.

Laguna responded with a 6-1 run of its own, highlighted by two aces by junior setter McKnight to open up a 20-15 lead. Westlake rallied to within 24-23, but a kill by Woloson iced the second game for the Breakers.

The third game was challenging for Laguna, which had an uncharacteristic four service errors. There were 14 ties, the last of which came at 22-22.

The Breakers took the lead for good when a Woloson kill ricocheted off the hand of Westlake's Travis Magorien. After the Warriors hit wide on the next serve, Laguna stood at match point. The Breakers got it when the Warriors were whistled for a net violation.

That touched off a wild celebration on the Laguna side of the net.

"This has been our goal the entire season," Woloson said.

"We've worked so hard all year for this and it's so great to finally win a CIF championship for the school after all these years. Now we can focus on winning a regional banner."

Chapel and Woloson had 11 and 10 kills, respectively. Thompson had seven kills, junior Alek Burk six kills and Kimball four kills. McKnight had 31 assists and 12 digs.

"We're leaving the program on the best note we possibly can," Chapel said. "I'm definitely going to miss playing volleyball for Laguna Beach High School, the atmosphere in our gym. But I'm leaving with some great memories, that's for sure."

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