Facing an opponent every bit its equal in talent, the Los Angeles Loyola High boys’ volleyball team had to rely on something just as important in the latter stages of Friday night’s match: experience.
It was that intangible which proved to be the difference as the Cubs won their annual clash of the titans against Southland rival Manhattan Beach Mira Costa, 25-19, 17-25, 25-20, 25-23, in front of a boisterous crowd at Loyola Marymount University’s Gersten Pavilion.
Next season, UCLA-bound Nick Porterfield and USC signee Alex Slaught will be rivals in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, but right now they are happy to be playing on the same side of the net, and the Cubs’ senior outside hitters led the attack with 14 and 13 kills, respectively. Slaught’s crosscourt spike pulled his team even at 23-23 in the fourth set and his second straight kill set up match point for the Cubs, who dug out of a 22-19 hole to avoid a decisive fifth set and avenge a five-set defeat on the same court last season.
“We have a lot of team chemistry and it showed at the end,” Slaught said. “We didn’t want it to go five because they beat us in five last year and that was in the back of our minds. When we lost a point we didn’t get down, we picked each other up. Both teams are talented, but last year they had the experience factor and this year we do.”
Porterfield’s stuff block gave the Cubs a commanding 21-13 lead in the first set, but Loyola needed four tries to end it when Slaught swung through two defenders. Mira Costa was ahead, 16-15, in the third set before the Cubs won 10 of the last 14 points to grab the lead.
“I know everyone on their team through [club play], so it was fun playing them,” Portferfield said. “After that second game, Coach told us to dig deep and really go after that third one. This looked like it might go five but we really came together at the end to close it out.”
Loyola, ranked No. 1 in the nation by ESPN Rise and No. 1 in the CIF Southern Section Division I poll, beat the Mustangs in straight sets at the Best of the West Tournament in San Diego earlier this month and appears to be on a mission after failing in its bid for a third straight CIF title last spring.
“‘Finish’ has been our motto all season and that’s what we talked about in the timeouts,” said Coach Michael Boehle, who has a 327-43 record in 14 seasons at Loyola. “To have a guy like Nick [Porterville] who has the poise to jump serve in critical situations is huge. It shows how important it is to have seniors who have been there before and perform well under pressure.”
USC-bound outside hitter Christopher Orenic, a USA National Beach Training Team member, had a relatively quiet match but junior opposite hitter Scott Stephanoff picked up the slack with 11 kills for Mira Costa (10-3), ranked third in Division 1. Junior middle blocker Ryan Kaseff added nine kills for the Mustangs, including a thunderous spike off a quick set to end the second set.
“Their guys have been here before, and you can’t discount how important that is,” said Mira Costa graduate and first-year coach Mike Longacre, who understands the intensity of the rivalry, having played in it himself. “We made too many errors on our side of the net and if you take a few of those away Game 4 goes a different way.”
Longacre’s teams as a Mira Costa student went 1-1 against Loyola, losing in his junior year in 1986 and winning the following year. He went on to play at Loyola Marymount.
“This is a great rivalry, and once you’ve played in it you’re never too far away from it,” he said. “That’s what makes it so unique.”
The two storied programs have combined to win 17 Southern Section championships. Loyola has 11 and Mira Costa has six.