Dons pull out an emotional 5-set win over DP

Carl Mendoza showed that Santa Barbara High’s volleyball team can win with guts and grit.

Inspired by Mendoza’s stellar back-row play and return from an injury, the Dons pulled out a thrilling five-set win over Dos Pueblos in an emotional Channel League match Thursday night at J.R. Richards Gym.

Santa Barbara rebounded from an eight-point loss in the first set and won the match,17-25, 25-23, 25-23, 19-25, 15-13, to complete the first round of league play undefeated (4-0 and 13-6 overall). Dos Pueblos, which also dropped a five-setter on the road against San Marcos, is 2-2 in league and 7-10 overall.

Mendoza scrambled all over the court for Santa Barbara, making saving digs and demonstrating quality ball control on passes to setter Hart Pitcher. His efforts sparked the comeback effort after the first-set loss. The libero finished the match with 24 digs.

“Tensions were high,” Mendoza said of the match. “We just had to grovel and play the game we played and do the best we can do. The first game we kind of slacked off, we didn’t know what to do. We just came back in the second game and showed what we’re capable of.”

Said coach Chad Arneson: “His play was just contagious for us throughout the match. That guy deserves some kind of award for his desire to fight for his team and let them know: ‘I’m not going down without a fight.’ He showed how much he cares about this team.”

Mendoza gave the Dons a scare in the fourth set. While running in to cover hitter Ryan Worley, he suffered an ankle injury and fell to the floor in pain.

“I rolled it over my toes and it hurt so bad,” Mendoza said.

The match was stopped so he could be examined by the trainer. After a few moments, he got up and hopped to the sideline for treatment.

In his absence, Dos Pueblos ran off five points to take a 15-8 lead. After getting the ankle taped up, Mendoza returned to the court and the Dons cut the deficit to three, 17-14.

The Chargers would eventually pull away behind the hitting of middles Jackson Wopat and Cameron Fry.

Fry was a big spark plug for the Chargers with his hitting and blocking. After a kill or block for point, he let out a roar and run around the court, slapping the hands of teammates.

“I have five middles this year and Cameron is one of those guys; he can play outside and the middle,” DP coach Chris Hughes said. “I know he’s very comfortable in the middle and it showed tonight. When you’re comfortable you go for it and he definitely went for it tonight on the block and especially attacking.

“That’s his personality,” the coach added on Fry’s emotional celebrations. “He’s just a loud, crazy guy, but for his team. He’s trying to pump up his team and he does. The guys respond. For the Homecoming King at DP, that’s interesting. He pumps us up, man. I get fired up when I see him. How much energy can a guy have? He would go another five games if he could.”

Santa Barbara opened up a 6-3 lead in the fifth set, but Dos Pueblos would battle back and tie the score at 10-10. A Tristan Fauntleroy bomb down the line gave the Dons the lead and a long Dos Pueblos shot made it 12-10. The Chargers got a point back when the Dons hit the ball out.

Then came a huge play in the set. Santa Barbara hit an off-speed shot to the middle of the court and the Dos Pueblos libero took the ball with his hands. The referee, however, called the Chargers for a mishandled ball, giving a point to the Dons for a 13-11 advantage.

“That’s a tough one at that time of the match,” Hughes said. “There were some of those plays on both sides all match that weren’t called and then it was called at an incredible time.”

The Chargers recovered briefly as Wopat got a side out to make 13-12. But Santa Barbara answered when Ryan Worlet smartly hit a cross-court set high off the Chargers’ block for the 14th point. After Drew Kenyon scored for DP on a cross-court kill, Worley finished the match for the Dons with a spike of a Pitcher back set down the line.

Worley had 10 kills for the Dons.

“I told him, ‘I’m really proud of you,’ ’’ said Arneson. “It speaks volume about his character, the way he fights. That swing at 13-12, he could have tipped or whatever but he swung and was aggressive, hit high off the hands. That was huge for us.”

Fauntleroy was the team leader with 15 kills and Joe Rafferty had 14 kills, three in the fifth set. Channing Peake added eight kills and Quinn Denkonsohn provided some clutch play with five kills and two blocks. Pitcher dished out 55 assists.

For Dos Pueblos. Wopat led the team with 17 kills. Fry played huge in the middle for the Chargers, connecting on 13 of 20 attempts with only one error and recording a team-best eight blocks. Kenyon and Josh Lemons each had eight kills and Niko Plessons picked up 15 digs.

When told he must feel snakebit in five-set matches, Hughes agreed.

“That’s a good way to look at it,” he said. “I told the team I’ve lost in here five or six times, and it hurts every time. Snakebit is a good way to put it. We’re right on the edge. One of these days we’ll go over the edge.”