BVB: Dons’ firepower, experience too much for San Marcos

It’s a luxury for a volleyball team to have that go-to hitter who can consistently make plays and put the ball away.

Hayden Millington has taken on that role for Santa Barbara High. The senior took charge on the outside Tuesday, blasting 13 kills and leading the Dons to a 25-21, 25-23, 25-16 sweep over San Marcos in the Channel League opener for both teams at J.R. Richards gym.

“Hayden has been the glue for us,” Santa Barbara coach Chad Arneson said. “We’re going to go as far as Hayden wants to go. He has to realize how far does he wants to push himself and push the team.”

Millington was nearly unstoppable when he got a set from Cord Pereira. His hitting percentage was a sizzling .688.

“He came through and made some clutch plays. He’s a consistent player and knows the game well. But there’s a lot of room for improvement and he knows that,” Arneson said.

On the other side of the net, San Marcos is looking for a player to step up and become that go-to hitter. The Royals (2-3, not counting tournament matches) lost a couple of outstanding ones to graduation in Shane Hauschild and Baker Johnson

“We’re a totally different team than last year with a totally different dynamic,” said coach Jon Newton, who was making his Channel League coaching debut. “It’s not a bad thing. It’s definitely a new look. We have more depth but don’t have that firepower like we did last year in Shane and Baker.”

Connor Everman provided some spark for the Royals on the outside and in the back row. He led the team with eight kills.

“He’s a great asset to our team,” Newton said. “He brings a lot of fire. He’s a real athletic kid.”

Junior Ian McLain made some plays in the middle for San Marcos and finished with five kills. Kevin Peters and Ben Hauschild also had five kills.

“He’s really coming into his own,” Newton said of McLain. “He’s only a junior and it’s his first year on varsity. He’s definitely attacking the ball high off the block. He’s somebody who’s going to be nice to develop in our program.”

Santa Barbara’s experience was key in the crosstown match, with returnees like Millington, Kyle Skinner, Jasper Rhodes and Pereira coming up big down the stretch in each set.

In the first set, Skinner served consecutive aces to seal the win. Pereira went to Millington for putaway kills to finish off the second set. The third set was serving show by Rhodes. His big jump serves ignited a 7-0 run to give the Dons an 11-3 lead. If the Dons weren’t scoring on his aces, they capitalized on overpasses or free balls after a blistering serve.

“Jasper definitely gained some momentum in that third game,” said Arneson. Rhodes had six aces and nine kills on the night.

“After that close (second) game, they definitely came out and played with more fire,” Newton said of the Dons. “Some teams will plat a little loosely, so you got to give them credit. They used tough serving and attacked the ball when they had chances.”

On his team: “We kind of went back into our shell and turned into individuals instead of bringing it together as a team,” said Newton.

Arneson lauded the play of Blake Kelley, who had five kills and hit. 500.

“He’s a two-sport athlete. He played football but he loves the game of volleyball. I thought he did some good things at opposite,” said Arneson.

The coach also praised the defense of libero Barron Mainz.

“We were a little flat footed out there, but we were able to get the job done,” Arneson said of the match. “We wanted to make a statement. Hopefully we did that by winning in three.”

The Dons (5-4) host Dos Pueblos on Thursday while San Marcos is home to Buena.