Boys' Volleyball: Laguna's season ends

A two-set hole, a boisterous crowd and a steady match played by Foothill High, were too much for the Laguna Beach boys' volleyball to overcome in the quarterfinal round of the CIF Southern Section Division 2 playoffs Saturday.

The Breakers put it all on the line but their spirited comeback fell just short, as the host Knights held on for a 25-16, 25-23, 19-25, 18-25, 15-12 upset victory.

The loss eliminated Laguna, the division's No. 2 seed, from title contention. The Breakers end their year 19-9.

Laguna advanced to at least the quarterfinal round for the 17th consecutive year.

"I give Foothill all the credit," Laguna Coach Scott Panaro said. "They played very well. Their libero [Griffin Grimes] is a stud. They stayed composed and even throughout the match and did a great job of keeping the pressure on us.

"Early on they were float serving us deep and our passing struggled to adjust. Once we got our passing going we started to play much better. We also struggled to put service pressure on them. We were not serving tough or locating our areas. If you do not win the serve and pass game, it is very hard to win the match."

Senior outside hitter Weston Barnes had a team-high 22 kills and 12 digs for Laguna. Senior opposite Jackson Pries had 10 kills, senior middle blocker Maxx McCarter and junior outside hitter Jack Wyett both had nine kills, junior libero Jake Hexberg had nine digs, and senior setter Grifan Fair had 55 set assists.

"Game 5 is always a roll of the dice where anything can happen," Panaro said. "We dug ourselves a two-point hole at 0-2, and needed to play catch up the whole game. A few costly hitting errors made it too much for us to overcome.

"Foothill's crowd was great and gave them a great boost while adding pressure to us. They deserved the win and it was clear how much it meant to them."

Foothill (22-12), the No. 2 team from the Century League and ranked No. 8 in Division 2, was eliminated from the tournament Wednesday after losing, 3-1, in the semifinals to No. 3-seeded Santa Barbara.

Laguna had moved on to the quarterfinals for the 33rd time in program history, by sweeping visiting South Torrance, 25-22, 25-16, 25-20, on May 9. Barnes and McCarter had 11 and 10 kills, respectively, junior middle blocker Noah Blanton had seven kills, Hexberg 13 digs, sophomore libero Reed Donenfeld six digs, and Fair 32 assists.

South Torrance (16-12, Pioneer League No. 2) won the Division 3 title last year.

"This was a good win for us," Panaro said. "South Torrance won D-3 last year and was in the finals the year before, so they are program used to winning. They are a very young team who will be in the mix for the years to come.

"This was a great team win as everyone contributed and we really worked together. Jake Hexberg had his best match of the season. He was a passing and digging machine. He was very focused and disciplined. Jack Wyett had a huge serving run in Game 2 that was the turning point of the match. He scored about nine [points] in a row, and we never looked back."

Seven seniors, Barnes, Fair, Pries, McCarter, outside hitter Cole Kesler, opposite Loic Corbiere, and middle blocker Andre Kvitsinski, played their final match for the Breakers Saturday.

"Our seniors, in particular ,have been on a mission and talked about this title run for years," Panaro said. "It was something we all dreamed about every night. The boys worked so hard all year and made countless sacrifices in pursuit of a CIF Championship. This wasn't the ending we wanted and it still stings.

"I have emphasized to the team the most important thing is who they will be in 10-20 years, and I have no doubt these boys will still be friends and closely involved each others lives. These boys love each other and truly embody what a team is all about. They wanted success for the guy next to them, just as much as for themselves. As much as it hurt to lose, I am very proud of the work the team put in this year and know the boys can walk with this heads up knowing we gave our best effort.

"I hope those returning next season learn from this difficult experience and use it as motivation to be better next season."

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