Dillon Klein still thinks about the loss every day. Every. Single. Day.
The moment replays in the Los Angeles Loyola High volleyball star’s head, sitting with his team in the locker room after falling to rival Manhattan Beach Mira Costa in last year’s regional championships.
“Damn, we couldn’t do it for you guys,” Klein thought, realizing it’d be the last time he’d get to play with his senior buddies.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever get over that,” said Klein, who is now a senior outside hitter. “I guarantee I’ll tell my kids that story.”
Nine months later, the loss still cuts deep, and it had Klein and the Cubs circling a Saturday showdown rematch with Mira Costa on their calendars.
“Just want to get out there and kick some butt,” Klein said.
This year’s Mustangs are a completely different team, trying to rebuild after 18 seniors graduated from the previous year’s championship squad. With a 25-23, 25-19, 25-17 sweep of Mira Costa, Loyola earned a measure of revenge on its home court.
Returning five starters from a team that went 18-3 in 2021, the Cubs set lofty goals heading into the season, aiming for an undefeated record and CIF regional and state titles.
After a loss to Redondo Union in their second game of the season and another in early March, tensions bubbled to the surface, head coach Michael Boehle said. Before a key March 12 match against Newport Harbor, the team assembled in the gym in a closed-door meeting.
Returners like Klein, UC Santa Barbara-bound Owen Loncar and Princeton commit Ryan Vena had one final season left, a chance at redemption. They implored their teammates in that meeting, Boehle said, to understand.
“I know a lot of the guys on the team are still — I don’t want to say scarred,” Klein said, “but we’re not forgetting what happened last year. It’s a huge motivator for us.”
A huge team hug at the end of that 30-minute assembly has belied a week of dominant play. The Cubs hadn’t lost a set since March 8 heading into the showdown with Mira Costa.
Dustin Steinbeck, who normally plays as an opposite hitter in club volleyball, has been trying to get up to speed as the team’s libero after a preseason injury knocked out the incumbent. Senior Michael Robertson is committed to UC San Diego, but languished on the bench for most of the season before an injury to Loncar thrust him into action.
Five Loyola players have locked down Division I commitments. Another, sophomore Sean Kelly, is a top player in the class of 2024. There’s an overflow of talent — and at times, that’s had to bring sacrifice for players like Robertson, Boehle said.
“That wasn’t accepted last year,” Boehle said. “They weren’t willing to sacrifice for their teammates, they weren’t willing to sacrifice for themselves. Now, because they saw what happened [last year], we’ve got guys that are willing to sacrifice.”
The pieces have fallen into place. The Cubs boast a rotation of servers and powerful hitters that put immediate pressure on an opponent’s blocking line.
With a talented yet untested roster, Mira Costa coach Avery Drost’s plan Saturday was simply to stay competitive — to hang tough and rattle Loyola in a high-pressure environment.
“I think one of the hardest things that Loyola has to do is play up to their own expectations, because the expectations are so high with a team like that,” Drost said.
Sophomore Victor Loiola was particularly active, baggy shorts whistling through the air as his lanky frame slapped ball after ball off tall Loyola blockers in the first set. After missing much of the season because of academic ineligibility, the return of an outside hitter that Boehle called a “specimen” is key for the Mustangs.
“People will want to see Victor Loiola play,” Drost said.
Loyola barely eked out a first-set win. After Mira Costa cut a nine-point deficit to 16-12 in the second, Boehle grimaced and called timeout, leading Klein to rally his teammates in the huddle.
“Enough,” Boehle recalled Klein saying. “Let’s go. It’s time.”
Off a return directly after the timeout, Klein nearly left a smoking hole in the hardwood with an atomic spike. Loyola kept the Mustangs at bay for a second-set win, and pulled away in the third to earn a victory in a regular-season game that meant a little more.
Watching from the stands, Jim Menges, a beach volleyball legend and former UCLA star, was taken aback by Klein’s athleticism.
“Very few people can jump like that,” Menges said. “That’s God-given.”
The USC commit walked off the floor with a grin, heading back to his locker room — this time on a note of triumph, not defeat. It was time to replace some memories.
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