BVB: Dons give No. 1 Esperanza all it could handle

The CIF boys volleyball playoffs are still a couple of weeks away. Santa Barbara High showed Friday night it has the potential to be a title contender in its division.

Playing against the No. 1 team in Division 2 at their Karch Kiraly Tournament of Champions, the Dons gave defending TOC and CIF champion Esperanza a scare before falling in five close sets in a second-round match at J.R. Richards Gym. The scores were 20-25, 25-23, 25-22, 22-25, 15-12.

The Dons were without regulars Tristan Fauntleroy (tonsillectomy) and Quinn Denkonsohn (ankle injury), but they got good performances from JV call-up Jasper Rhodes and Will Pulice on the front line and gave Esperanza all it could handle.

“It says a lot about our character and our heart with how much adversity we had to deal with,” Santa Barbara coach Chad Arneson said. “We haven’t made any excuses and we’ve dealt with (the adversity), and I think our guys responded really well.”

Santa Barbara took out Harvard Westlake in four sets in the first round, 27-25, 16-25, 25-20, 25-21.

Dos Pueblos won its first-round match over Buchanan (26-24, 25-19, 25-15) before falling to fourth-seeded Corona del Mar (15-25, 25-18, 25-21, 25-18).

San Marcos dropped its first-round match against Archbishop Mitty (25-16, 25-19, 19-25, 25-23) but bounced back and swept Valencia in the consolation round (29-27, 27-25, 25-19).

In the tightest match of the day, defending CIF Division 1 champion and top-seeded Mira Costa survived an intense five-set, second-rounder against Archbishop Mitty. The scores were 25-13, 25-21, 23-25, 25-27, 18-16.

In the lower bracket, third-seeded Bellarmine Prep swept West Ranch, 25-22, 26-24, 25-16.

Today’s championship semifinals will match Mira Costa against fourth-seeded Corona del Mar and second-seeded Esperanza against Bellarmine Prep. Both matches are at 10:45 a.m.

At 9 a.m., Santa Barbara will take on West Ranch while Dos Pueblos faces Mitty in fifth-place semifinals.

San Marcos plays Buchanan at 10:45 at San Marcos in a consolation semifinal.

Santa Barbara let Esperanza know early it was in for a dogfight. The hitting of Ryan Worley and Channing Peake, the defense of Carl Mendoza and a couple of ace serves by Griffin Janney sparked the Dons to the first set win.

Santa Barbara led for most of the second set before Esperanza’s 6-7 Jake Arnitz started making plays. The UCLA commit, last year’s tournament MVP as a sophomore, finished the match with 30 kills.

In the third set, he blasted a ball to give the Aztecs a 23-21 lead. On the next sequence, the Dons hit a ball that appeared to touch Esperanza blockers before going out of bounds. The official, however, ruled there was no touch, giving the point to the Aztecs for a 24-21 advantage. Arnitz crushed the final point of the set.

The Dons won the fourth set behind the clutch hitting of Pulice and Peake in the middle and a pair of aces by Mendoza for the final points.

In the fifth set, Ben Oxnard came up with some big hits for Esperanza and the Aztecs capitalized on three net violations against the Dons to pull out the win and advance to the semifinals.

Despite the tough defeat, Arneson saw some positive things from his team.

“We brought up some guys from JV and we had some bright spots,” he said. “We got to see Jasper Rhodes, a lot of potential. Here’s a guy who is a sophomore and looks like a football player. He added some confidence to our lineup. Will Pulice played well in the middle.”

Rhodes had eight kills and Pulice put away seven. Worley and Peake tied for team honors with 11 kills apiece and Joe Rafferty added seven kills

Mira Costa was almost derailed by a tough Mitty squad. The Mustangs were cruising after the first two sets before their passing fell apart in the third set.

Adrian Williams led the Mitty comeback with impressive hitting from the opposite position. He finished with 24 kills. Libero Matt Aguirre frustrated Mira Costa’s big hitters with his defense.

But the Mustangs were able to regroup, thanks to the powerful hitting of Long Beach State commit Scott Stephanoff on the outside and Ryan Kaseff in the middle.

One of the biggest plays of the match was turned in by Mustang libero Dillon Shambaugh at 15-15. Mitty’s Ian Aguirre hammered a ball inside the 10-foot line that Shambaugh miraculously managed to dig. Stephanoff finished the rally with a kill for a 16-15 lead.

Mitty sided out on the next play, but Mira Costa scored the next two points on a Mitty net violation and a stuff block by Stephanoff.

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