Flintridge Prep volleyball cruises past Salesian in CIF second-round win

LA CAÑADA — A second-round playoff match is not supposed to be easy, especially after a five-game first-round match.

Yet it was for the Flintridge Prep boys' volleyball team on Thursday night.

The Rebels didn't face much of a challenge from visiting Salesian, needing just 66 minutes to eliminate the Mustangs with a 25-17, 25-14, 25-18 win in the CIF Southern Section Division IV playoffs.

Prep (19-7) will next play top-seeded Cathedral or Katella in Saturday's quarterfinals.

It didn't have a hard time getting to the next round.

The Rebels trailed just once, by a 1-0 margin in the first game. From then on, they were in complete control, having fun on the court and on the bench, so much so that the referee issued the Prep bench a yellow card for excessive celebration in the third game.

"That's been the theme all year for us," Prep Coach Sean Beattie said. "We have 11 seniors and eight of them start. The guys who are not starting, they have put it upon themselves to create an atmosphere that is amazing to play in front of. It's something that we have flown with.

"Our bench calls itself the 'Bench Mob.' They get the guys going. Their cheering gets the guys on the court excited. That's been a huge, huge contribution to our success."

The Rebels were successful, just like they were in their first-round win over Whitney thanks to their well-rounded players.

Setter Mike Lii led the offense with 27 assists, setting up freshman Dante Fregoso (match-high 12 kills), Kareem Ismail (eight kills), Tyler Weakland (seven kills) and Chadd Cosse (six kills) with perfect passes.

"We didn't want to let up," Lii said. "We made sure we stayed focused, we stayed hot and we closed it up. We just played together. We played as a team. The other team can't key on one person. They can't stop one individual. They have to stop us as a team. When we're playing like the way we did today, it's almost impossible."

The few times Lii made a mistake, he turned to his teammates, laughed it off, and didn't allow Salesian (14-9) to get on scoring streak.

"The guys were playing so well, they knew one mistake would not hurt them," Beattie said. "When you can just laugh off a mistake, that's when you know you're in a rhythm. We were hitting well from the outside, our middles were playing great, our opposites were getting the blocks up, defensively, we were digging a lot of balls. It was one of those things where we were in a rhythm."

Nine times, Prep scored at least three unanswered points. Salesian had just one such run and it came in the third game. The Rebels had five- four- and three-point runs in the first game, which they took in 20 minutes. They started the next game on a 5-0 run and cruised to the win. By the third game, the Rebels seemed relaxed and had fun, using their depth to dispatch the Mustangs.

"We played relaxed," Beattie said. "When you're playing relaxed, that's when you're playing great. They got big hits, but when they got the big hits, we shrugged it off and came back and got the next point."

Beattie expects to play Cathedral in the quarterfinals. He also expects a tougher match.

"They won CIF last year," Beattie said. "I think they return a good number of their guys. I will tell them, 'You play your game, don't worry about what they're going to do, you have a chance.' If we play like this, we'll give ourselves a chance."

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