If Wednesday’s meeting between Laguna Beach High and Esperanza served as any indication, then the upcoming CIF Southern Section Division 2 boys’ volleyball playoffs could really be intense.
In a regular-season finale, the division’s top two ranked teams squared off at Esperanza. Second-ranked Laguna pulled out wins in the first two sets and had the host team on the ropes, but the top-ranked Aztecs (22-3) battled back to pull out a 29-31, 24-26, 25-18, 25-22, 15-11 nonleague victory.
The Breakers, who closed out the regular season 17-8, fell behind, 14-11, in the fourth set 4, but rallied to tie the score three times, the final time, at 20-20. Esperanza outside hitter Jake Arnitz took over from there and his kill led to a 25-22 win that set up a fifth and decisive set.
Arnitz, a junior, finished with a match-high 37 kills.
“He played pretty well and made some big plays down the stretch for them,” Laguna Coach Scott Panaro said of the UCLA commit.
Laguna trailed early in the fifth set, 9-4, and couldn’t mount another comeback.
“It definitely was a good, fun, competitive match,” Panaro said. “I was really impressed with the way that we pulled out the first two sets. In Game 3, we had a slight, little mental lapse and let up a little bit. It was a big game on the road, and it was a good crowd.”
Senior outside hitter Weston Barnes led Laguna with 19 kills. Junior outside hitter Jack Wyett had 14 kills and junior middle blocker Noah Blanton 12 kills.
“Early on in the match, I thought that Noah’s blocking was a big factor for us,” Panaro said.
The day before it took on Esperanza, Laguna completed a 10-0 run through the Orange Coast League Tuesday by sweeping visiting Costa Mesa, 25-12, 25-17, 25-18. Senior middle blocker Maxx McCarter had 10 kills and senior setter Grifan Fair 28 assists.
Laguna has won 116 league sets and 48 league matches in a row. The Breakers improved to 61-1 all-time in five-set matches against Costa Mesa.
Panaro feels that his team will receive one of the top seeds in the Division 4 playoffs when the CIF pairings are announced Saturday.
“We should stay near the top, but it’s out of our hands,” he said of postseason positioning. “We’ll find out this weekend.”
A potential rematch with Esperanza could occur in the coming weeks. It would be the third match of the season between the Breakers and Aztecs, the latter having won both previous meetings.
“We could see each other in the finals, but it’s not just about us and Esperanza,” Panaro said. “There are a lot of other really good teams who have a shot at winning the title.
“I think we are in a good spot going into the postseason. For the most part, we are healthy. We have a lot of seniors who are feeling confident and want to close the season strong. We just need to stick to what we’ve been doing throughout the season over these next three weeks.”