Boys volleyball: MVHS beats Los Altos HS in round two of CCS playoffs

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Malini Ramaiyer

When the Matadors won the first set 25-11, it seemed like the match would be a quick one. It was the clear that the Matadors were the stronger team when they won the first set with a margin of 14 points. But that fact became less and less clear as the game went on, especially in the third set when Matadors trailed seven points behind their opponent, the Los Altos Eagles.

Sophomore Jason Shen serve-receives against an LAHS serve. MVHS went on to win the point, and later the set.
Sophomore Jason Shen serve-receives against an LAHS serve. MVHS went on to win the point, and later the set.

Despite this hole they dug themselves into, the Matadors, held true to a pattern of redemption this season and came back and won the match (25-11, 25-21, 26-24). Four seeds higher, MVHS faced LAHS at home on May 12 for the second round of CCS playoffs. The key to the game for the Matadors has been the key for their season: stick to the plan and execute. When they try to make special plays or lose their focus, the errors add up, which is what happened in the last two sets.

“I don’t think we did anything special in the first set,” senior Eric Zhang said. “We just had a serving run that blew the game open in the first set. And [LAHS] just didn’t serve-receive well, I think they were just warming up or something.”

Initially, the score moved up slowly to a standstill tie at eight points. That’s when junior Jason Shen stepped in to serve, taking the Matadors on a nine point run. And with the score at 17-8, there wasn’t much room left for the Eagles to close the lead. LAHS did, in fact as Zhang said, seem to be warming up in that first set. Their passes were weak and their only strong hits came from the middle player senior Nathan Larson, who also started off spotty in the first set.

So the Eagles lost 25-11 and came out for the second set ready to redeem themselves. Even though their play remained messy, the team was significantly more determined, making sure that no ball dropped on their side of the court.

The Matadors’ passing was lacking — they didn’t move their feet and shanked one too many passes. In the meanwhile, Larson from the Eagles continued to bring in points with his hits from middle. But the middle of LAHS’ court was their Achilles Heel, where they lost all their points as the Matadors tipped and placed the ball there. While MVHS is characterized by power and floaters, LAHS has topspin and speed. And although LAHS closed the gap in the second set, the Matadors power puts them on top.

Senior Nathan Mallipeddi gets a clean bounce past an LAHS block. Seniors Eric Zhang, Alex Li, and Mallipeddi played a pivotal role on MVHS' offense.
Senior Nathan Mallipeddi gets a clean bounce past an LAHS block. Seniors Eric Zhang, Alex Li, and Mallipeddi played a pivotal role on MVHS’ offense.

“The second set, they played better, they serve-received better,” head coach Paul Chiu said. “We don’t have to do anything special as a team. Volleyball, it gets pretty simple after a while. We know what we’re doing.”

Half-way through the third set, it seemed like the match would have to go to the fourth set because the Matadors were behind seven points. MVHS shot itself in the foot as it made error after error, straying away from their plan. But if there’s any word to characterize this team, it’s confident. So even as they were losing, the team seemed to laugh at themselves and shake each lost point off easily.

“It’s happened a couple of times this season already where we’ve had to come back from a deficit like that,” Zhang said. “I definitely think we can do it. I hope we don’t have to do it on Saturday, [against Bellarmine College Prep for CCS semifinals].”

The Matadors blocking fell apart in the beginning of the last set, as the middles were too slow in closing the block. This allowed the Eagles to hit between blockers and get numerous kills. As the Matadors fixed their blocks and cut their hitting errors, they were able to come back. But the Eagles still stayed ahead, getting to game point at 21-24. However, one LAHS error gave MVHS the opportunity to come back, and the Matadors capitalized on that opportunity. .

The Matadors worked their way up to 26, winning the third game by two points. Freshman Kevin Mathew served MVHS through this run.

“I was just thinking just get it in and our defense can take it from there,” Mathew said.

With the score at 23-24, senior Alex Li got a kill to tie the score at 24. LAHS called a timeout. Then Li got yet another kill from back row, and for someone who leads the MVHS offense, he looked very shocked when he landed from the hit. 25-24, the Matadors were ahead. Mathew served and Zhang simply hit down a free ball from LAHS, winning the match for the team.

“In the third set, I just said we don’t need to press, we don’t know need to try to make hero plays,” Chiu said. “It’s very basic, cliche stuff — one play at a time, do your job and we’ll be fine.”

As the Matadors go on to face Bellarmine College Prep this Saturday, May 14, they hope to cut their errors and execute the strategy they practice — for them, that’s the plan that will win them the championship.

MVHS will play Bellarmine College Preparatory HS in the CCS semifinals on Sat. May 13 at 12:30 p.m.

Additional reporting by Om Khandekar, Aditya Pimplaskar

Photos by Om Khandekar