BVB: Dons take care of business on court, beat DP in 5 to win league title

Channel League officials can keep the coins in their pockets.

Santa Barbara High’s boys volleyball team took care of matters on the court Tuesday night, outlasting Dos Pueblos in five sets at Sovine Gym to win the league title outright and prevent a three-way coin-toss for CIF playoff designations.

The Dons will be the league’s No. 1 team for the CIF Division 2 playoffs after rebounding from drubbings in the first and fourth sets and a 7-4 deficit in the fifth set to win the regular-season finale, 14-25, 25-19, 25-21, 13-25, 15-13. They finish at 7-1 in the final standings.

Dos Pueblos, which could have created a three-way tie for first (and the crazy coin-flip) if it had won the match, drops to third place in league with a 5-3 record. San Marcos, which swept Buena on Tuesday, finishes in second place with a 6-2 mark.

Santa Barbara pulled this match out the old-fashioned way: with tough defense, ball control and opportunistic play. The Dons struggled all night trying to block DP’s potent middle attack of Jackson Wopat and Cameron Fry. Those two combined for 29 kills. They got big digs from libero Carl Mendoza, Joe Rafferty and Ryan Worley to keep rallies alive and they picked up points on some untimely mistakes by the Chargers.

“They have two really, really good middles that are hard to stop,” Santa Barbara middle Channing Peake said. “We just had to be on the defensive side of things. We couldn’t really block them, we figured that out. We just had to really suck in and do what we had to do and try to keep their passing off and they’d go to the pins instead of the middle.”

After trading sideouts for most of the fifth set, Peake put a ball away for a 13-12 Santa Barbara lead. On the next play, the Chargers hit the ball out to make it 14-12. A Josh Lemons kill pulled them within one, but Rafferty closed out the match for the Dons with an off-speed shot.

“(The set) was off the net, so I just took a little shot to the center of the court. It worked out,” said Rafferty. “I’m stoked; it’s the craziest game I’ve played in.”

Rafferty, who tweaked his ankle in the third set and had to come out of the match to receive treatment, led a balanced Dons attack with 12 kills. Worley recorded 11 kills, including a clutch back-row hit during a three-point run that evened the score at 7-7 in the fifth set. Quinn Denkensohn added 10 kills and Peake had eight. Mendoza sparkled on defense with 20 digs.

“Our defense carried us,” said Santa Barbara coach Chad Arneson.

DP coach Chris Hughes, who called the loss painful, credited Santa Barbara for its steady play in the high-pressure match.

“I think Santa Barbara has very good ball control and is solid,” he said. “I think our guys pressured themselves too much and processed a little too much instead of just playing the game. Hats off to Santa Barbara, they played a great match, very steady. When it came down to it, they made more plays than we did.”

DP got strong matches from Wopat and Fry in the middle and from Lemons hitting on the outside and setting. Wopat blasted 17 kills, Fry put away 12 kills on 15 attempts and had four blocks, and Lemons added eight kills and four blocks. Niko Plesons picked up eight digs.

But the Chargers were plagued by mistakes at critical times. In the second set, they hit a ball out, committed a ball-handling violation and got blocked to turn a 16-15 game into a 20-15 deficit.
In the third set, they gave Santa Barbara four points on a five-point run to fall behind 20-16.

“It’s kind of been our Achilles heel all year, we make bad mistakes at bad times,” Hughes said. “We made a mistake on an overpass that we don’t put down and the next thing you know they run three points off. It should be one point for us and they don’t get those three points.”

Arneson called this title one of the most gratifying in his coaching career at Santa Barbara.

“The kids have worked so hard through all the injuries we’ve had,” he said. “Out of my 9-10 years coaching, this is probably my most satisfying because we really had to work for it.”