Flintridge Prep volleyball edges La Cañada in five-game thriller

LA CANADA — If the first game was any indication, the Flintridge Prep and La Cañada High boys' volleyball teams were in for a nailbiter in a nonleague rematch between the cross-town opponents Friday.

The tone set in the first game, which included 10 ties, continued the entire match, as it took five games for the Rebels to ultimately emerge victorious with Prep middle blocker Tyler Weakland scoring the final two points of the game to deliver the 26-24, 23-25, 25-22, 20-25, 15-13 win on La Cañada's homecourt.

PHOTOS: Flintridge Prep vs. La Cañada boys' volleyball

“It was two really good teams going back and forth, every game was a four- or five-point game and that's good, especially for a nonleague game,” Flintridge Prep Coach Sean Beattie said of the match that featured 31 ties. “You want that battle back and forth, it gets you ready for the playoffs.

“They're a really good team. You can't even say the best team won, it was a battle.”

It appeared Flintridge Prep (11-6) had gained the final edge in a fifth game that had already included eight ties after a Spartans service error and Chadd Cosse block gave Flintridge Prep a 13-11 lead.

La Cañada (9-7) created some doubt and knotted the score back up at 13 on a kill from Mitchell Page (five kills, five blocks) and ace from Jonathan Sullivan, who finished with a match-high 15 kills and also had 15 digs, eight aces and five blocks.

That's when Weakland, who had nine kills and season-high seven blocks in the match, came up big.

“They'd already beaten us this year and we knew they were a really good team and were on their court, but we've been playing pretty well lately and we knew if we stuck together as a team we could pull it out and that's what happened today,” Weakland said.

The senior gave the Rebels match-point, 14-13, with a quick kill. He then sealed the win with a key block that deflected off two La Cañada players before hitting the floor and causing Flintridge Prep's players to erupt in a frenzy and mob Weakland before eventually chanting his name to break the post-game huddle.

“I guess it was a special occasion,” said Beattie, explaining why Weakland got the final cheer. “Our celebration got a little rough, Tyler took a couple of shots.”

The victory avenged a sweep Prep suffered at the hands of the Spartans to open the season, 25-19, 25-18, 25-19.

While each game was tightly contested Friday, there was one clear separating factor – the amount of unforced errors each committed. The Spartans committed 54 errors (18 serving) to the Rebels' 35 in the match with nine of them coming in the fifth game.

First-year La Cañada Coach Otto Lacayo could only wonder how different the result would have been had his squad been able to cut down on its errors.

“I felt like we could have done a better job and it would have looked a lot easier,” said Lacayo, whose team opens Rio Hondo League play Tuesday against San Marino High. “We had the right matchups at the time and we just couldn't execute serving.”

The Spartans were also hampered by a wrist injury Orion Burl, who finished with 13 kills, was dealing with. The outside hitter came into the match with the injury and came out of the action several times when the pain was too much to deal with.

Prep used an 8-1 run to take a 14-9 lead in the first game. La Cañada climbed back to within a point late, 22-21, with a 5-2 spurt before a service error momentarily broke its momentum.

Kills from Burl and Mel Schroeder (13 kills, four aces) tied the contest back up at 23 and 24 for the Spartans before a kill from the Rebels’ Dante Fregoso and La Cañada hitting error ended the game, 26-24, in Prep's favor.

After giving up a 6-0 run to start the second frame, La Cañada rebounded to force game point, 24-21. Consecutive Spartans errors made things tighter than they maybe should have been before Burl ended the game, 25-23, with a kill.

Flintridge Prep took the third game on the heels of a 6-1 run that gave it a 23-19 advantage and included two La Cañada errors and a pair of Weakland kills.

The fourth game was the one exception to the other four close frames Friday. A 12-2 run put La Cañada up comfortably, 16-8, and while the Rebels rallied back within five it never really threatened to take the game from the home team.

Prep received seven kills and a season-high 11 blocks from Kareem Ismail, 11 kills from Fregoso and eight kills from Cosse. Kurt Kozacik also tied La Cañada's Connor Walbrecht (42 assists, five kills) for a match-high 17 digs.

The Rebels received 37 assists from Mike Lii, while the Spartans also got 14 digs from Connor Belcher.

While Friday's loss may be a sore spot for the next few days for La Cañada, Lacayo said it could ultimately be a blessing.

“I think it's a good learning experience,” Lacayo said. “It's not going to feel good right now or the next day, but before we get into league I think it's something that had to happen. A five-gamer, to go all the way down and not be able to come out on top, that's going to stay with you for a bit.”

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