Boys volleyball: Matadors defeat old rivals in straight sets in first home game

Junior+Yash+Hegde+and+senior+Ethan+Kulla+go+up+for+a+block+on+opposite.+The+Matadors+blocking+game+was+key+in+their+win+against+Los+Gatos+High+School+on+March+10.+Photo+by+Pranav+Iyer.+

Junior Yash Hegde and senior Ethan Kulla go up for a block on opposite. The Matadors blocking game was key in their win against Los Gatos High School on March 10. Photo by Pranav Iyer.

Malini Ramaiyer

Video by Pranav Iyer. Additional filming by Om Khandekar.

Tied at 22 points in the last set, the Matadors knew that the Los Gatos HS Wildcats were too close for comfort. Head coach Paul Chiu called a timeout. He let the team take a breath and recuperate. MVHS knew they had the win in the bag, having won the last two sets, so they came out of the timeout strong. They got a side out and a kill and all of a sudden, they were in the lead at match point.

Last season, the boys volleyball team faced its season rival LGHS three times. LGHS won the first time and MVHS won the second. For the third match, the league co-champions faced each other for CCS semifinals and MVHS prevailed.

And for this match on March 10, the Matadors prevailed once again, winning their first home game of the season in straight sets. It’s a new season, but the team of thirteen is very old, with eight returning players.

Last season, the boys volleyball team broke records. With a season goal to win CCS and NorCals, the Matadors won the league championship, made it to CCS finals and qualified for NorCals, all for the first time. This season, they have the same goals, but expect to progress further.

“Our main, core group of kids is still the same,” senior Alex Li said. “So that’s always good because we always have that identity going on.”

Li explains that the team is good at taking in younger players and training them throughout the four seasons. Li, who was on varsity his freshman year, cited freshman Kevin Mathew as an example. With the graduation of class of 2015 alumnus Tejas Gopal, the Matadors needed a second setter in addition to senior Eric Zhang and Mathew fit right in.

Junior Yash Hegde and senior Ethan Kulla go up for a block on opposite. The Matadors blocking game was key in their win against Los Gatos High School on March 10. Photo by Pranav Iyer.
Junior Yash Hegde and senior Ethan Kulla go up for a block on opposite. The Matadors blocking game was key in their win against Los Gatos High School on March 10. Photo by Pranav Iyer.

The first set of the match was a quick and easy win of 25-16 for the Matadors. The Wildcats didn’t play with as strong of a force as they did last season against MVHS and the Matadors generated a strong offense that ended the set within 15 minutes.

“Though some of their players are really good, they don’t have a comprehensive team like we do,” Li said. “Even in their best positions, we may have better players.”

A block by Zhang and Mathew started off the second set for the Matadors. While MVHS did start off strong, their errors, such as hitting out and missing serves, allowed LGHS to trail close behind. However, the offense is what carried the team’s game. Li, senior Ethan Kulla and sophomore Jason Shen dominated with their kills. Kulla and Shen took most points from hard-angle hits from outside, while Li varied up his hits from back row.

The Matadors got their separation at 15-11. MVHS pulled ahead as the team synced up for plays. And despite a lack of coverage of the block and hitters, everything was working for MVHS and they won the set 25-16.

We’re just trading points in the beginning — that’s very expected. And then, we just got to be patient and wait for our run, our opportunities.

HEAD COACH PAUL CHIU

“We’re just trading points in the beginning — that’s very expected. And then, we just got to be patient and wait for our run, our opportunities,” Chiu said. “And when our opportunities came, kind of in the middle in the match [for] set one and two, we got separation and were able to put the game away.”

Finishing the second set again with a lead of nine points, the Matadors entered the third game confidently. Using their lead to experiment, Chiu mixed up the lineup putting Shen in as defensive specialist and junior Prathik Rao as outside hitter.

The first two points went to LGHS on dropped balls by the Matadors. The dead plays resulted from poor coverage of all zones of the court. MVHS’ defense resorted to diving, instead of just moving their feet and running the balls down.

This set being their last chance to change the course of the match, the Wildcats were playing harder too. Their serves were harder to pop up for the Matadors and a slow MVHS defense allowed LGHS to pull ahead by a couple of points.

“We did a couple of lineup changes and we just struggled on serve-receive in general,” Zhang said. “The third set was too close for comfort compared to the first two.”

The Matadors made as many errors as sideouts, preventing themselves from pulling ahead for a lead. So the game reached its peak at 22-22, with LGHS serving. Chiu called his second timeout of the game and sent his players back in with some renewed energy.

“We never do anything special. If you think about it, we made one special play on defense. Two of them, two consecutive points to get ahead and that’s how volleyball works,” Chiu said. “You just trade serves for the longest of times, all of a sudden, boom you stop them twice, and you get the lead and off you go.”

The Matadors got those two points, taking the lead to 24-22. Yet another error, a missed serve, was a side out for the Wildcats, echoing the nature of the whole third set. And despite these errors and the fight that LGHS had put up, the game ended as suddenly as it started — Li went up for a hit and made a kill from outside that landed within the five-foot line. 25-23 and the game was over. The Matadors know they have some work to do, more defensively than offensively, but they’re confident for the rest of the season.

“We’re in good shape and this is a team that’s expected to contend for CCS and NorCals again this year,” Chiu said. “I think our expectations’ no less than CCS finals, and I hate to say but anything less than that is going to be a disappointment for this team. My guess is us against St. Francis in CCS finals again this year.”

The next home game will be against Lynbrook High School on Friday March 18 at 6:45 p.m.