LA CAÑADA — Lingering in the wings for the Flintridge Prep boys’ volleyball program was the specter of the Rebels’ first-round exit from the CIF Southern Section playoffs in each of the last two seasons.
Flintridge Prep could push that specter out the door this season with a first-round win against Godinez.
That is exactly what the Rebels did.
After some early jitters, Flintridge Prep settled in to sweep visiting Godinez, 25-23, 25-14, 25-17, in the Division IV playoffs Tuesday to advance to the second round for the first time in three years.
“The last two years we’ve lost in five [games] in the first round. Just getting over that hump will be a sigh of relief for these guys,” Flintridge coach Sean Beattie said. “They can relax and play a little now.”
With the win, Flintridge Prep (23-4) ends the season for Godinez (15-9) and advances to the second round Thursday. The Rebels will be on the road against Laguna Blanca, which defeated Vistamar in four games.
The opening set was a contentious affair with Flintridge Prep coming out a little tight and the visiting Grizzlies playing sharp from the start. In the first game there were 14 ties, the final coming at 21. It was back and forth and neither team led by more than three, but late errors by Godinez helped the Rebels put it away.
“I think we just had first-game jitters. We were all pretty nervous. It was a lot of these guys’ first playoff game,” Rebels captain AJ Nicassio said. “I think that once we got [a win in game one] out of the way, we started making passes. We were less nervous and the game just flowed a lot more easily.”
A kill from the outside by Rebel Nathan Powell, off an assist by Nicassio, gave the hosts their first-game point in the opening game at 24-22. The ensuing Flintridge Prep serve sailed wide, but the Rebels put game one in the bag with another kill from Powell.
“We faced some adversity in the first game. We weren’t passing well,” Beattie said. “It went point, point, point, point and the fact [was] the guys didn’t let that beat them. They were able to calm themselves, come back, and win that game. I thought the next two games we played pretty consistent.”
Nicassio led Flintridge Prep, the Prep Leaue champion, in kills with 16. The senior also served up three aces. Powell chipped in 13 kills and the senior also recorded 10 digs. Rebels setter Jake Woo, playing in his first postseason contest, registered 33 assists.
Godinez, the second-place finisher out of the Golden West League, was fueled by the dynamic play of Luis Nieto, who proved to be the most dangerous player on the court throughout. The senior had a match-high 18 kills (seven in the first game, five in the second and six in the third).
“[Nieto] did a great job,” Beattie said. “I think he did most of his damage from the backline. Honestly, I’m not going to lie, we haven’t seen a guy that can hit the 10 like that. Defensively we were kind of shell-shocked at the beginning.”
Game two saw Flintridge Prep bring up its quality of play. The game was tied at 10, but after that the Rebels slowly pulled away. The game ended with two hitting errors by Godinez. The final margin of 11 was the largest of the match by either squad.
Game three saw Flintridge Prep take an early advantage after two consecutive kills by Powell made it 10-3. The Rebels stayed comfortably in front after that, fending off any Grizzly rally and maintaining at minimum a four-point cushion. The match came to an end when Nicassio pushed the ball over the net with his left hand. The ball found the floor and the elusive first-round win belonged to Flintridge Prep.
“We’ve definitely got to work harder,” Nicassio said of moving on in the playoffs. “We can’t come out and play like we did in the first game and expect to win. We’re going to be playing tougher opponents as we move on. So we’ve got to celebrate the victory [today], but we’ll get back out here the next day.”