LA CAÑADA — One turnaround team toppled another Tuesday afternoon.
That’s what could be said after the resurgent La Cañada High boys’ volleyball squad continued its bounce-back 2013 regular season by opening Rio Hondo League play with a 25-21, 22-25, 25-21, 25-17 victory over visiting upstart San Marino at the Hotckin Family Gymnasium.
“This is a team that didn’t have much success last year, so we’re working toward not just winning, but getting better,” said Spartans first-year Coach Otto Lacayo, who also coaches the Westridge School girls’ volleyball program. “We have some areas where we could have done better, but we started league with a win.”
A Spartans squad that only won five matches all of last year improved to 11-8 this season, although the contest was in doubt throughout.
San Marino (10-6 overall, 0-2 in league), which finished 7-16 last season, captured the second game to tie the series at 1 and appeared to have all the momentum in the third game.
The Titans recovered from an 11-5 deficit with nine consecutive points, with the spurt capped when San Marino setter Kevin Lai (29 assists) stuffed La Cañada’s Orion Burl (12 digs) to propel the visitors to a 14-11 advantage.
The point was followed by a timeout.
“Coach just told us that we needed to get our [act] together,” said Spartans freshman Connor Walbrecht, who tallied 23 assists, 13 digs and five kills. “We were making a lot of little mistakes and were beating ourselves.”
Whether it was the speech or not, the Spartans rallied to tie at 14 behind a kill and ace from Jonathan Sullivan (13 digs).
The score went back and forth until La Cañada retook the lead at 21-20 off a kill from Sullivan.
Perhaps the game and match turned on the very next play, when the Spartans were initially called for a centerline violation only to have the point nullified and possession played over.
With a valuable mulligan, La Cañada extended its lead to 24-20 on consecutive San Marino errors and a key block from senior Jack Anderson. Two plays later, the third game ended, 25-21, in La Cañada’s favor after a Titans service error.
“I don’t know if La Cañada did anything different in that third or fourth game, but we made too many mistakes,” Titans senior opposite Harrison Tung (six kills and two blocks) said. “Our problems were just mental, we didn’t focus.”
After both teams traded the lead through the early portion of the fourth game, La Cañada took control in opening up an 11-10 advantage with a pivotal 7-1 run that included points from Mitchell Page (seven blocks), Jackson Harbolt, Sullivan and Burl.
“I was pleased with the distribution,” Lacayo said. “We’re not normally like that, so it was nice to see others involved.”
Down six, San Marino never recovered in eventually falling, 25-17.
San Marino’s play over the final two games certainly differed from the second game.
In that game, San Marino recovered from a 13-9 deficit in tying the match at 21.
The Titans then scored the next three points, with one kill each from Daniel Chee (23 digs) and Kevin Lai, to go up, 24-21, en route to the team’s lone victory.
“This is a team full of seniors,” Tung said, “we have to do better than this.”
Andrew Boon paced San Marino with eight kills, while Vincent Ma added seven kills.