Rebels go the distance

LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — With a No. 3 preseason ranking in CIF Southern Section Division V to live up to, the last thing the Flintridge Prep boys' volleyball team needed was to open the season with a losing streak.

In that sense, it's arguable that the Rebels, swept in their Wednesday opener by Arrowhead Christian, were the team more in need of a statement win in Thursday night's nonleague match at St. Francis.

Just don't try telling that to the Golden Knights.

St. Francis shook off a lackluster losing effort in its Monday opener against Temple City to go toe to toe with the Rebels, CIF semifinalists last season, for five games before Prep was able to pull out a 25-22, 19-25, 25-14, 22-25, 15-8 victory.

“It's early in the season still and we're getting the kinks out,” Flintridge Prep Coach Sean Beattie said. “St. Francis is no slouch — they're Division I and they play some big schools.

“They played hard and I thought we really had to focus, especially in that fifth game. We came out for [the fifth game] on fire.”

Prep jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the deciding game, which was forced by a 4-1 St. Francis run to end the fourth game.

The Golden Knights battled back to come within one point in the fifth game, at 5-4, but then saw the Rebels begin to pull away.

Senior outside hitter Dylan Walker, who finished with nine kills, 11 digs and four aces, got a 5-0 Prep run rolling with a kill for a sideout followed by an ace.

Rebels junior Gavin Thomson notched two of his match-high 11 kills down the stretch, including one that set up match point at 14-8.

“It was really good to get our first win,” Thomson said. “We're a good team and we know it, but we've just got to work on our passing.

“Our defense stepped up today — it was a lot better than yesterday. We feel like once we can do that, our offense is good enough to take us the rest of the way.”

St. Francis was led by senior outside hitter Danny Valdez, who had a team-high 10 kills, and Brandon Recker, a senior middle blocker, who led all players with seven blocks.

“We did things today that we haven't done yet this year, [like] calling the ball and talking,” St. Francis Coach Mark Frazee said. “Against Temple City we really didn't talk. ...[I told them] to talk amongst ourselves and make things happen and know what's going on on the floor.”

While passing and communicating was more of a liability for Prep at times — to the tune of several balls dropping uncalled — serving woes hurt the Golden Knights.

Serves into the net at critical junctures stymied momentum and a violation for serving out of rotation loomed large in a very close first game.

“I tried different rotations and that's what got us goofed up in the first game,” Frazee said of a violation that took his team from serving down one to receiving down, 19-17. “We're that close to winning Game 1, but that's OK. That's why they call it preseason.”

In the end, both coaches left reasonably satisfied with the outcome.

The Rebels still have work to do, but now have a win to build on, and the Golden Knights built some confidence.

“What this match really did is it proved to these guys that they can hang with a really good team and play,” Frazee said. “And they came that close to coming out of here with a 'W.'”

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