When the field was set for the 2013 CIF Southern California Regional Division 1 boys' volleyball playoffs early last week, Huntington Beach High Coach Craig Pazanti said he asked his team to "finish things the right way."
The Oilers had just come off a title-clinching performance two days earlier, but their season, which potentially still had three matches left, was not complete.
Pazanti got his wish Saturday.
One week after capturing its first CIF Southern Section Division 1 championship in 19 years, Huntington returned to Santiago Canyon College in Orange and won its first CIF regional title by beating the same opponent, Los Angeles Loyola, it had defeated May 18. As was the case in that first meeting, the Oilers squeezed past the Cubs in five sets, winning by scores of 25-22, 20-25, 29-27, 20-25, 15-12.
Loyola had won three of the previous four SoCal Division 1 titles and was the defending champion. The SoCal Regionals began in 2009.
Huntington was the No. 1 seed in this year's Division 1 tournament, and finished what Pazanti had asked of his squad: CIF regional champions.
It has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?
"It sure does," Pazanti said. "This is amazing. When we won Game 3, I thought we were a team of destiny. The resiliency these guys showed tonight, was just amazing."
The turning point in the match was the third set. Loyola (32-4) was on the verge of taking a 2-1 lead in the match and had Huntington (34-2) all but put away. The Cubs on four occasions held an eight-point lead in the set, the final time at 21-13. They still were up, 23-17, when things changed. Quickly.
Two shots that went out of bounds and successive double contact calls against Loyola drew the Oilers to within, 23-21. The Cubs were at set point twice (24-23, 25-24), but were guilty of another wide shot and serving error. The score was tied twice more, but Huntington pulled out an improbable win when the Cubs sent a shot long and out of bounds.
"That's as good as any comeback I've ever seen as a coach," Pazanti said. "Down eight, with a rally score, and to come back and win is almost unheard of. These guys just stuck it out, played hard and played together. It was unbelievable."
With the match coming down to a fifth set, Huntington never trailed in the decisive set. They took a 3-0 lead when junior outside hitter Brenden Sander landed a kill. Loyola managed to close to within a point five times, the last time at 13-12, but an emphatic kill from the left side by sophomore outside hitter TJ DeFalco punctuated a 15-12 win for the Oilers.
"This is just a result of hard work, sweat and perseverance — and never giving up," said Huntington senior setter Matt Butler, who is one of three team co-captains. "Every single one of our players wanted to win."
The Oilers went out on the ultimate high, ending the season on a 24-match win streak that created Sunset League, Southern Section and SoCal Regional championships.
"Honestly, I can't describe this feeling," senior opposite and co-captain Zach Gates said. "I think it was all about us being confident. We played with confidence all the way through the playoffs."
"It was about poise and confidence," he said. "I don't think they ever thought they'd lose, ever. We have a lot of depth and a lot of talent on this team, but it was about having confidence."