BVB: Dons lose swagger, title match against Esperanza

When the Santa Barbara boys volleyball team plays with a swagger, it is tough to beat.

That swagger was present through the first set and most of the second during Saturday’s CIF Division 2 championship match at Santiago Canyon College. But it got away from the Dons and Esperanza took advantage and rallied for a 21-25, 25-20. 25-23, 25-18 title victory.

“We got to be hard-nosed and play with emotion and that’s what we were doing,” Santa Barbara coach Chad Arneson said of his team’s play in the first set and part of the second. “All of sudden we went 180 and couldn’t get it done.”

Esperanza’s Jake Arnitz had something to do with it. The 6-7 junior was a one-man wrecking crew for the Aztecs. He blasted a whopping 44 kills from all over the court and had a sterling hitting percentage of .514.

“At this point, you go with your big horse and Jake, like I knew he would, came through,” said Esperanza coach Isaac Owens.

Tristan Fauntleroy led the Dons with 19 kills and a .351 average. Channing Peake added nine kills and Joe Rafferty and Ryan Worley chipped in seven apiece.

Santa Barbara started well, mixing up its attack to throw off the Aztecs in the first set. The Dons carried the momentum into the second set, taking an 11-4 lead. But the offense started to break down and the swagger got away from them. That’s when Arnitz took over the match. His hitting and some errors by the Dons enabled Esperanza to climb back into the match. They went on a 7-1 run to take their first lead, 20-19.

Arnitz put the finishing touches on the comeback with four straight kills and a solo block.

“We came in super hyped up and kind of shut down. It was bad,” said Dons libero and team captain Carl Mendoza.

“Our guys, when things aren’t going so well they tend to get down on each other,” Arneson said. “We were getting a little negative here and there. The players weren’t being themselves.”

Esperanza and Arnitz kept the pressure on in the third set. A blast from the back row gave the Aztecs 10-6 lead.

Santa Barbara fought back behind the hitting of Peake, Rafferty and Fauntleroy, cutting the deficit to 22-18. But on the next play, a communication breakdown on a second ball after a dig killed the rally. The Dons, however, would keep fighting and got to within one, 24-23, on a kill by Worley.

The Aztecs scored the final point on kill by Arnitz from the back row.

Esperanza dominated the fourth set.

“It’s a tough one to swallow, our kids have worked so hard,” Arneson said. “The momentum was on our side for the first game, even though we missed several serves. (Esperanza) never got going. Then you go up 18-13 in game two. I don’t think our kids got lax; for some reason we were just stuck in a tough situation and our boys couldn’t fight through it.

“Unfortunately our boys didn’t get it done in game two. That could have been a dagger for them.”

Arnitz said his team has a tendency to start slow. “We’re kind of used to it. (Santa Barbara) definitely came out pretty strong and showed us what they got.”

Besides the big hitting from Arnitz, the Aztecs got clutch defensive play from Andrew Lancaster. He had 27 digs.

“Our libero played amazing,” said Arnitz. “We definitely turned it up, turned up our intensity in the second game.”

For Arneson and the Dons, it was a tough pill to swallow.

“We win Channel League so many times, we just can’t get the big one,” Arneson said. “We had a chance, This was a good chance to win CIF, when you’re up 1-0 and have a chance to go up 2-0 in games. You can’t take these opportunities for granted.”