LOS ANGELES — The Flintridge Prep boys’ volleyball team entered their CIF Southern Section Division IV semifinal match against Windward on Wednesday with hopes of reaching their first divisional final.
The Rebels readily jumped on an unorganized Wildcats team and took a two-set advantage, only to see Windward battle back to force a deciding fifth set.
The teams battled late and were tied five times in the fifth, but Windward came out victorious, handing Flintridge Prep a 24-26, 22-25, 25-15, 25-23, 18-16 loss at Windward.
Flintridge Prep (25-5) trailed early in the deciding set, 8-5, but battled back to tie it at 8.
Windward (23-1) again set up a three-point cushion, but after a Flintridge Prep timeout, the Rebels tied it at 13.
Windward, the Gold Coast champion, took the lead four times in the final stretch of the deciding game before a kill from Charles Rogers sealed the match for the Wildcats.
“The thing I told the guys that I was proud about was that we didn’t give up,” Flintridge Prep coach Sean Beattie said. “Going up, 2-0, then losing the next two can be really discouraging. You could drop really quickly, and we didn’t. I told them I was proud of them.”
Flintridge Prep, the Prep League champion, fell in five sets in a playoff semifinal for the second time in program history. The Rebels have reached the semifinal round six of the last 12 years.
Flintridge Prep reached the semifinal with a sweep of Godinez in the first round, followed by a 3-1 victory against Laguna Blanca and another sweep in the quarterfinals against top-seed Cerritos Valley Christian.
Rebels senior AJ Nicassio led the visitors with 33 kills, while the Wildcats saw two of their players finish in double figures in kills — Auden McCaw with 22 and Rogers with 14.
“He played well today,” said Beattie of Nicassio. “They were double- and triple-blocking them the whole game and he was still hitting through them. That says something about his athleticism and talent.”
The Wildcats, which entered the semifinal round after sweeping all three of their playoff opponents, will face No. 3 Los Altos in the Division IV final at Cerritos College on Saturday.
“These guys are so mentally prepared for any situation,” Windward coach Alexa Micek said. “The amount of mental preparation work that these guys do day-in and day-out starting from day one of the program is unmatched. There’s no way that anyone else puts that much prep in.
“We know we’ve been in this situation before when we played Campbell Hall at home. We just had to remind ourselves that this is a very similar situation and we knew from our heart that, absolutely, we can do this.”
Flintridge Prep established a 14-9 lead early on in the first set before Windward tied it at 18. The Rebels set up another four-point lead, but again, the Wildcats came back to tie it at 24. A Windward foot fault gave the Rebels the first-game victory.
Flintridge Prep established a 19-11 lead in the second set off of a 7-0 run, but another run by Windward cut the lead to 22-21. Nicassio delivered two kills before an ace from freshman setter Jake Woo gave the Rebels the win and a 2-0 advantage.
After the teams went back-and-forth in the third game, but Windward embarked on a 12-0 run to set up a 20-10 lead over Flintridge Prep, which led by two points early in the third game. The Rebels were unable to recover from the run and dropped the set.
"We just talked to each other,” Beattie said. “That was not our best game. We missed four of our first six serves, I think. I think we assumed that after two that this game was in the bag. We tried to talk to them and tried to say, ‘Hey. You have to win three.’ Once things started going down, we told them we had to fight and get the next point.”
After another tug-of-war battle early in the fourth, the Wildcats established a 14-11 lead with momentum on their side. Flintridge Prep battled back to tie it at 16 and the teams went neck-and-neck with four more ties before Windward pulled away to even the match at 2.
“They definitely had a lot of momentum,” Nicassio said. “But, that fifth game, you have to leave it all out on the court. Momentum doesn’t really matter that much, but it’s point-for-point. We kept it close the entire time. We did our best.
“All I have to do is shout-out my teammates because they played amazing. I’m so proud that I got to be their captain and I’m so thankful for everything this season. It wouldn’t have been the same without them. They all stepped up this game and just played so well.”