Dons fall to Mustangs in big-time 5-set final at TOC

High school volleyball doesn’t get much better than Saturday night’s championship match at the Santa Barbara/Karch Kiraly Tournament of Champions, and the host Dons were right in the thick of it.

Things were tied up at 12 in the fifth game — the Dons’ second 5-setter of the day — before mighty Mira Costa won a long rally and clinched the title 20-25, 25-14, 24-26, 25-21, 15-12.

“We know we’re a great team and we know we’re up there,” said all-tourney selection Taylor Fauntleroy. “By the time we play them in May, we’ll be ready to beat them and take on the top teams.”

After moving up to Division 1 this season, defeating teams like the Mustangs and Loyola, who also downed the Dons in a 5-gamer earlier this season, will be the only way for coach Chad Arneson to pick up the CIF title that has eluded him in recent years.


“It was a great battle out there, and you’ve got to give our kids a lot of credit,” said Arneson, who has led the Dons to two straight CIF finals and two semifinals before that. The program is 32-0 in the Channel League with Arneson at the helm.

“When the season started I didn’t think this team was going to be as good as it is, and that’s what makes them so special,” he said. “The reality is we have every opportunity to win the Division 1 title, and we just need to learn from losses like this and stay hungry.”

They were certainly hungry against Mira Costa, and the intensity level was high enough to lead to warnings for each team about smack-talking across the net.

Chris Pratt was an absolute monster in the middle throughout the match, and Fauntleroy mixed in some finesse tips with booming swings on the left side to keep the Mustang defense guessing.

Sam Biscaro showed why the University of Hawai’i is happy to have him next year, as the big setter was also a standout blocker with six stuffs on the night. A pass sailed over his head midway through the fifth and Mira Costa’s Evan Licht went up wide-eyed to crush it back down before Biscaro twisted in the air and rejected it.

But Arneson knew that Pratt, Fauntleroy and Biscaro were going to be at this level before the year began. It’s the supporting cast — such as all-around gamer Tyler Worley, 6-7 sophomore Clifford Anderson, libero Will Boucher and libero-turned-outside hitter Alec Smythe — that has quietly made the difference.

“The supporting cast has been the key to our season,” said Fauntleroy. “I never expected Clifford to be where he’s at. Tyler is just killing it on the outside, and Alec has been huge in our improved passing.”

Santa Barbara defeated defending champion Newport Harbor in its morning game, 19-25, 25-20, 25-15, 19-25, 15-12.

While the Dons have their sights set on a title run, they know that always-feisty Dos Pueblos is what they need to focus on first. The Chargers took a strong sixth in the tournament, defeating Royal 25-19, 25-19, 22-25, 25-19 before falling to UCSB-bound Dylan Davis and Corona del Mar in the fifth-place game, 25-22, 25-21, 25-22.

Davis, a polished 6-8 middle blocker, provided a big-time measuring stick for fellow 6-8 middle Cody Zoesch of DP.

“He’s just really good on the attack, especially on the quick-slide set. He was just up there on the block a lot,” said Zoesch, who managed to put away nine kills on 13 attempts in the loss.

“School was in session for Cody, but he did fine,” said DP coach Chris Hughes. “I guess that’s what I want Cody to become, and he’s quickly getting there. That guy’s as good as Pratt is, so it’s good for us when we face Santa Barbara.”

The matchup is set for Thursday night at Sovine Gym, and the Chargers aren’t short on confidence.

“They should bring it on, because we’re going to destroy them,” said Zoesch with a big grin.

Hughes said that the statement might have been a bit strong, but that he is itching to get a crack at the Dons.

“Santa Barbara’s definitely the favorite. They’re the real deal,” said the coach. “I’ve been the bridesmaid to them for a long time, and I’m hoping to be the groom soon.”

Fauntleroy’s response to Zoesch’s statement?

“I’ve been hearing that for six years, so…”

Hughes specifically cited the play of libero Cole Arutian and the enthusiasm on captain Jordon Dyer, who was a ball of energy throughout the weekend.

Then there was San Marcos, which picked up a 21-25, 25-22, 25-22, 25-22 win over Santa Ynez before being swept by Valencia 29-27, 25-18, 25-18, finishing in 14th place.

“Our two captains, Jonathan Newton and Erik Holliday, just played outstanding volleyball in all four matches we played, both from a blocking standpoint and an offensive standpoint,” said coach Roger Kuntz.

Holliday and Newton led the team in blocks and kills in each match.

“Our block looks real good right now, and I think if we continue to improve on that we can play with the big boys,” said Kuntz, who pointed out that the Royals had late leads in the first set against both Corona del Mar and Valencia.

Just like last year, Dr. Lazslo Kiraly — father of volleyball legend and Santa Barbara High graduate Karch Kiraly — presented the MVP award. This year’s honoree was Mira Costa’s Eric Mochalski.

Mochalski’s father, Dave, played in three NCAA Championship teams with Kiraly in the 1980s.

Dr. Kiraly read a statement from his son, who was coaching his son’s Santa Margarita squad to the title in the Chadwick Tournament down in Palos Verdes.

Other All-Tournament selections were Santa Barbara’s Pratt, Mira Costa’s Kevin Donahue, CDM’s Davis and Dylan Caldwell of Newport Harbor.