Boys volleyball: Matadors conquer the Los Gatos Wildcats 3-2 in CCS semifinals

The+team+laughed+and+cheered+and+hugged+after+winning+the+fifth+set+and+the+match.+By+winning+the+CCS+Semifinals%2C+they+qualified+for+the+CCS+finals+and+NorCal+for+the+first+time+in+MVHS+history.+Photo+by+Aditya+Pimplaskar

The team laughed and cheered and hugged after winning the fifth set and the match. By winning the CCS Semifinals, they qualified for the CCS finals and NorCal for the first time in MVHS history. Photo by Aditya Pimplaskar

Malini Ramaiyer

Additional reporting, photos and videos by Aditya Pimplaskar

What happens when you take two co-champions and put them in a CCS semifinals match? You may see the higher seeded team triumph, like Los Gatos High School did for their first league game against MVHS on Apr. 1. There is also a possibility that you’d see an upset with the lower seeded team winning, like MVHS did in their second league game against LGHS on Apr. 29.

Or perhaps, you’d see the match go to five sets. The first four sets may switch winners and it could all come down to the final set, where a missed serve can make the difference between going on to the CCS championship and finishing the last match of the season.

On May 16, at Independence High School, the Matadors did not play their last match of the season. After four sets of win, lose, win, lose, MVHS defeated the LGHS Wildcats 17-15 in the fifth set of the Division I CCS semifinals match, advancing to the CCS championship and qualifying for NorCals for the first time in school history.

“I knew it was gonna be close.” coach Paul Chiu said. “Our kids played their hearts out and so did [LGHS], so it’s fitting that it came down to two points in overtime in the fifth set.”

A quick start

The first set began in a similar fashion to the last two matches. Since the competition was so intense, the score moved up in ties — 7-7, 8-8, 9-9, 10-10, all the way to 24-24.

So in this first set, despite the point by point ascension, the game went by rapidly, pausing for nothing but the timeouts and a no flash photography announcement from the commentator.

The coaches called timeouts generously throughout the match. The best that coaches could do was call these timeouts to both psych out the other team amidst a winning streak and let their players rest and calm down. As junior Eric Zhang said after the CCS quarterfinals match, the coaches are necessary for practice, but in games, the team goes on autopilot.

“It’s hard to watch as a coach,” Chiu said regarding the intensity of matches such as this one. “But it was a great match for volleyball fans.”

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The LGHS outside went for a kill and got the point as MVHS lacked a solid block. Only after the the third set did the Matadors put up timely and consistent blocks. Photo by Aditya Pimplaskar.

 

And so it was, with the first set going past 25 points. At 23-21, with MVHS ahead, LGHS called a timeout. Out of the timeout, LGHS got a side out, so MVHS called a timeout. Out of this timeout, MVHS got a side out, so LGHS called a timeout with the score at 24-23. And so it went, until MVHS won 26-24 when a Wildcats’ outside hit out. This first set served as a key example of how close the skill levels of teams were.

Netting a loss

The Matadors exhaled after this first win; however, this relief and enthusiasm didn’t carry into the second set as the team’s spirit deflated in the first few points. Error after error, the Matadors sunk itself in an unprecedented rut. This second set would come down to their ability to keep up their spirits that were already up from winning the first set.

Sophomore Prathik Rao kept up his game and spirit in this set by serving aces, getting kills and doing little dances on the court after winning a point. Nevertheless, as the second set went on, MVHS ran the gamut of errors, from miscommunications on defense to a lagging block. LGHS’ lead grew from three points to six points and the Wildcats won this second set 25-18.

“Sometimes one team gets a streak of three points, and three points doesn’t seem like that much, but when you’re in a game that’s that close, three points means a lot,” senior David Chang said.“ So, whenever one team gets on a streak, it’s really easy [for them] to just win off of that.”

Taking it back

The third set began with MVHS’ serve and determination to get the match back. They lost the first point to a block, but they smiled at themselves, patted each others backs while shaking their heads and set up for the next play.

The LGHS opposite hits into the net, giving a point to the Matadors. In this set, MVHS took the lead, pulling ahead by playing strategically. They were selective in choosing whether to tip the ball or to go for the kill. Junior Alex Li, especially, pulled through with consistent kills on the angle from outside. However, he also simply placed the ball within the five foot line when he knew the LGHS block was up.

“Li had a great match,” Chiu said. “I haven’t seen his stats yet but, I won’t be surprised [if it was] his best hitting match of the year.”

The set point was initially called on a net violation by LGHS — their error was the Matadors’ victory with a score of 25-23. However, the referee called a replay, so back at 24-23, the Matadors just as enthusiastically stood back in their positions for another play. They got the pass, the set and junior Eric Zhang put it away with a kill from opposite — they won on their own terms this time.

 

The team sat quietly as they watched the fourth set intently. In a game as intense as this, all the team could do was watch and offer silent support.  Photo by Aditya Pimplaskar
The team sat quietly as they watched the fourth set intently. In a game as intense as this, all the team could do was watch and offer silent support. Photo by Aditya Pimplaskar.

For most of the fourth set, the Matadors kept up the pace they set in the third set. With a solid defense, Zhang and senior Tejas Gopal, set the hitters well. In fact, Rao after getting a kill on outside, turned to Gopal and said:

“That [set] was so beautiful, let me just cry.”

As the Matadors kept up their pace with beautiful sets and point-winning kills, LGHS struggled to keep up but maintained a strong enough defense that went point for point with the Matadors up until the score was tied at 19.

This is when LGHS’ sophomore Ryon Farhadi took the serve. Farhadi went on a four point streak, which, as Chang mentioned before, made a world of difference in this match. With a hit out by Zhang after a side out, LGHS won the fourth set 24-20, taking the match to the fifth set.

The fifth set

The Matadors won the fifth set.

But no one from a bystander to a player himself could tell who the winner would be until the Matadors won that 17th point.

LGHS started with the serve and MVHS won the first point on LGHS’ error, foreshadowing the fate of the match. The Matadors initially pulled ahead, forcing the Wildcats to call a timeout. Out of this timeout though, LGHS came out strong. They tied the score that once again went up point for point until that 17th point.

Block coverage continued to be a major weakness, but the block itself consistently went up while the LGHS block lagged behind. Every point from this match was worth the whole of any other match. Every error mattered, but every kill mattered to get MVHS that 17th point.

With the Matadors on top at 15-14, they needed one point to win the set, but it still could have gone either way. On the next serve, Rao’s serve, the crowd fell even more silent than usual — this might have been it — the end of the match.

Except it wasn’t.

Parents and other fans stood up for a game point. Throughout the match they started cheers that grew louder as each play progressed; however, they always fell silent during serves. Photo by Aditya Pimplaskar
Parents and other fans stood up for a game point. Throughout the match they started cheers that grew louder as each play progressed; however, they always fell silent during serves. Photo by Aditya Pimplaskar.

LGHS made a kill down the line from outside. 15-15. LGHS was called on a net violation. 16-15.

Game point and Chang went up for the serve. The silence eclipsed the gym once again.

On serves like this one, the Matadors carried the immense weight of the CCS semifinals on their shoulders. It was tough for them to serve within the mere 180 square feet of the court as the pressure built up.

“I just said, ‘Hey I’m gonna make my serve, not for me, not for my playing time, but for my team,” Gopal said. “‘I gotta keep my serve in. I know the pressure is up, but, hey, I want my team to win’ and we did. We pulled through.”

The serve went over and LGHS, yet again, made an error. The middle hit into the net and fell flat on the ground in devastation, while the Matadors erupted into roars and hugs.

“In the moment, the rush was just… it was spectacular. I’m gonna be comparing it to last year, because that’s what I remember the most. ” Pan said. “We definitely did better than last year and it was fantastic.”

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Sophomore Prathik Rao, senior Jeremy Wang and junior Eric Zhang go up to block the LGHS middle. By this fifth set, MVHS progressed from having virtually no block to putting up a triple block to soften hits for passers. Photo by Aditya Pimplaskar.

Setting up for championship

Last year, the team’s season ended at the CCS semifinals. This year, they made it history.

From their first league match where they beat Mountain View High School to this match where they qualified for CCS finals and NorCal, the team has achieved a lot of firsts for the Matadors’ boys volleyball program and on Tuesday May 19, they will go back to Independence High School to hopefully make more history in the CCS finals against number one seeded St. Francis High School.

“I expect [SFHS]to be a very good team and it’s gonna be a great match,” Li said. “I think we can definitely match up against them, even though the only time we played them we didn’t do very well.”

In a scrimmage, the Matadors lost 3-0 against SFHS on Apr. 30 — the day after they had defeated LGHS at home for the first time. It will be a tough game, but they’re optimistic.

“We’re going to shock the world,”Chiu said.

From the start, the boys volleyball team has been an ambitious team with a unanimous goal:

“Win league, win CCS, win NorCals.”

And they plan on getting there by breaking one record at a time, or perhaps, two records at a time like they did for this match. But that might just be what happens when you put two co-champions together for a CCS semifinals match.

The CCS finals match will take place at Independence High School on May 19 at 7:30 p.m.