COSTA MESA — The Orange Coast College men's volleyball team clinched at least a share of its second straight conference title on Wednesday by beating second-place Golden West, 25-22, 25-22, 25-17.
By securing its seventh straight triumph, all against Pacific Coast Conference foes, the Pirates (12-4, 9-1 in conference) will be the No. 1 representative of the PCC when the state playoffs begin on April 17.
OCC closes out the season on the road against San Diego City (Wednesday) and Palomar (April 13), both in the lower half of the seven-team conference standings. Even with a pair of upset losses, OCC would have the tie-breaker advantage against any team that may pull even in the conference standings.
But OCC Coach Travis Turner was less excited about where his Pirates have come than where they are headed and the direction they are taking to get there.
"It's funny, we didn't start the season really well," Turner said of his team's 3-3 opening. "But we've gotten better every match. I'd say, probably, that was the best match we've played and I hope we can keep that up. But the good news is, we can still get better."
The Pirates trailed by as many as three in the latter stages of the opening set against the Rustlers (10-5, 7-3). But after securing a 20-19 advantage, OCC trailed only once more (2-1 in the second game), en route to its fifth sweep in the seven-match winning streak.
Golden West took OCC to five games on March 9 at the Rustlers' gym, but Coach Tim Johnson's squad was no match for the Pirates on Wednesday.
"We passed well, no doubt," Turner said. "We just played volleyball well. All the little serving and passing stuff is volleyball and we did that well."
OCC made 12 serving errors (to go with four aces), but had just five hitting errors.
Sophomore setter Michael Ensign, a Corona del Mar High product, said quality passes helped him disperse 39 assists.
"Our passing was great tonight," Ensign said. "It gave me an easy job to run the offense."
Dillon Emery, a 6-foot-4 freshman opposite who came in leading the state in kills, had 13 kills to lead the Pirates. His seven digs were also a team best and he added one ace serve.
Chris Van Vuuren, a 6-5 sophomore outside hitter, added 11 kills, three aces, two solo blocks and three block assists, while Sam Jergens, a 6-1 freshman middle, chipped in 10 kills and two block assists.
"Jergens went off tonight," said Ensign, who needed an additional threat with freshman outside hitter Rusty Sary out due to illness.
Turner also had praise for the undersized Jergens.
"Jergens is about the smallest guy in the gym," Turner said. "But he was really hitting the middle for us."
Austin Bagby, a freshman middle out of Newport Harbor High, chipped in three kills and a pair of block assists as OCC posted a 10-4 advantage in team blocks.
Aaron Gerardi, a sophomore outside hitter and former teammate of Van Vuuren at Fountain Valley High, led the Rustlers with 13 kills.
The match was interrupted briefly after the second set in order to recognize former Pirate Alan Knipe, who coached at Golden West and Long Beach State and is now the U.S. men's national team coach heading into the London Olympic Games this summer.
Bob Wetzel, who coached Knipe in 1988 at OCC, presented Knipe a glass plaque, and Knipe addressed the crowd briefly, before both teams got back to business.
"It's just great for JC volleyball to have someone in that position who was once a part of all of this," Turner said of Knipe.