It wasn't easy, but the Laguna Beach High boys' volleyball team was able to earn a share of the Orange Coast League championship Tuesday.
The Breakers repeated as OCL champs by virtue of a 26-24, 25-22, 25-19 victory over host Calvary Chapel. The win gave the Breakers a three-match lead on the Eagles with two league matches remaining.
Laguna, ranked No. 2 in CIF Southern Section Division 2, is now 8-0 in league and 15-7 overall.
Calvary Chapel pushed Laguna to the limit in the first two sets Tuesday.
"That was by far the toughest league match I have experienced in my two years as head coach," Laguna Coach Scott Panaro said. "Give Calvary a lot of credit. It was their senior game and they drew a really good crowd and played fired up. We didn't come to play with as much intensity as they did.
"Our goal was to win the league championship this year, and the guys accomplished that goal. It's nice to be able to wrap up the title with two [league matches] left to play."
Laguna, which played the first set and much of the second set without starting setter Grifan Fair, fought back to take a 26-24 first set. The comeback was led by the hitting of senior opposite Jackson Pries and senior outside hitter Weston Barnes. Pries had seven kills and Barnes six kills in the set and junior setter JP Wollam had 13 set assists.
The blocking ability of the Breakers keyed their 25-22 win in the second set. A two-handed drop by junior middle blocker Noah Blanton put Laguna up, 20-17, but Calvary Chapel wouldn't go away and drew even at 20-20 on a kill by Nathan Rodriguez. A kill by Pries was sandwiched between serving and hitting errors by the Eagles, and they put the Breakers back in front at 23-20.
Another serving error by the Eagles (16-8, 5-3 in league) gave the Breakers set point and a 25-22 win.
Fair returned to play setter and finished with 12 assists in the third set, a 25-19 win in which Laguna led from start to finish.
Pries had a team-high 11 kills. Barnes and senior middle blocker Maxx McCarter had nine and eight kills, respectively. Barnes also had nine digs, Jake Hexberg had eight digs and Wollam had 22 assists.
"Jackson [Pries] was on fire down the stretch of that first game," Panaro said. "I also thought that Jake Hexberg did a great job of serving down the stretch, as well."
The Breakers have won 110 league sets in a row by sweeping Calvary Chapel, a streak that dates to the 2009 season. Their league match win streak went to 41 games. Their only loss in an OCL match came in 2008 in five sets to Calvary Chapel. They are 61-1 all-time against OCL competition.
Tuesday's win also allowed Laguna to bounce back from a nonleague loss on April 19 at Dana Hills. The Breakers dropped that match, 25-21, 25-19, 25-17. The Dolphins are ranked No. 6 in Division 1.
Barnes had 10 kills and four digs, Pries had seven kills and six digs, and Fair had 22 assists and five digs.
"We struggled serving and passing, and Dana Hills played a great match," Panaro said. "I wish we were serving better. We had 14 misses against Calvary, and 15 misses against Dana Hills. Our attention to detail is another area that needs improving, and that will determine how successful we are in the coming weeks."
Laguna faced Godinez in a league match Thursday. The score wasn't available at press time. The Breakers conclude their OCL schedule next Tuesday at home against Costa Mesa on senior night at 5:30 p.m.
One day after finishing league play, the Breakers face another nonleague challenge when they travel to face Esperanza at 5:45 p.m. Wednesday. The matchup pits the top two ranked teams in Division 2 and could be a preview of things to come in the upcoming CIF playoffs, which start May 7.
The teams met during the Orange County Championships tournament in March. Esperanza won that match in five sets.
The top-ranked Aztecs are led by Jake Arnitz. The 6-foot-6 outside hitter committed to UCLA earlier this year.
"He's a player who is close to, if not the, best player in the country," Panaro said. "He's a major part of their offense and his play will determine a lot. It will definitely be a really big game for us."