BVB: Dons take a set off top-ranked Mira Costa

Playing against the No. 1 boys volleyball team in the state, Santa Barbara High showed signs Friday night it has the makings of being a solid boys volleyball team this season.

The Dons took a set off Division 1 top-ranked and perennial powerhouse Mira Costa and showed some fight in a 25-17, 23-25, 25-21, 25-14 loss to the Mustangs in a non-league match at J.R. Richards Gym.

“We didn’t back down, we showed a lot of heart,” Santa Barbara coach Chad Arneson said of his team. “We have the capability to play with some of the best teams. We have the fight in us.”

After a slow start, Santa Barbara changed their offense in the second set, going from one setter to two. The team responded to the new alignment and played better. The Dons took a 16-15 lead on a Tristan Fauntleroy kill from the left side and expanded it to 20-15 after Channing Peake and Joe Rafferty combined for a block, Ryan Worley posted a solo block and Mira Costa committed back to back errors.

The Mustangs, playing their season opener, regrouped and pulled to within one, 24-23, on a kill by the heavy-hitting Scott Stephanoff, one of five NCAA Division 1 recruits on the squad.

Santa Barbara called time out, and when play resumed the Mustangs committed a serving error for the set-winning point.

Arneson said Rafferty’s play was a key to winning the second set.

“I thought Joe Rafferty came in and played really steady for us,” he said. “Overall, he made the team a lot more balanced and we were able to run a smoother offense.”

The third set was hotly contested, with players jawing at each other after big plays.

“It was a little heated at times, but you got to love that, a little talking back and forth,” Arneson said. “They’ve know each other since they were probably 14 years old in club.”

The turning point of the set came when Santa Barbara committed consecutive passing errors to give Mira Costa a 12-10 lead. A Rafferty kill made it 12-11, but big serves by Stephanoff and the net play of 6-6 middle Connor Inlow sparked a 4-0 run by the Mustangs.

The lead got up to 17-12 before Santa Barbara mounted a comeback. A kill by Hayden Millington, a block by Peake and a point on a scramble play pulled the Dons to within two at 17-15. After another block by Peake made it 18-16, Mira Costa scored consecutive points when Santa Barbara’s setter tripped while running to a pass and on a dink by Casey White. Inlow finished off the set for the Mustangs with a kill.

The fourth set was all Mira Costa. White was unstoppable hitting on the left side and the Dons struggled passing the booming serves from Grant Chalmers and White.

White, who’s committed to Harvard, had a big night for Mira Costa, posting a match-best 25 kills, with 10 digs and two aces. Long Beach State-bound Stephanoff delivered 13 kills and USC commit Riley Mallon added 12. Chalmers, who’s headed to UCLA, handed out 59 assists.

Fauntleroy led Santa Barbara (1-1) with 13 kills. Quinn Denkensohn added six kills and Peake and Rafferty each had five kills. Rafferty also had three blocks.

“This is what it’s all about, playing the best teams in California,” Arneson said. “The only way we’re going to get better is by playing at a high level. Obviously, we can learn more from our losses than our wins. We know what we need to work on.”