From dream to reality

How the boys volleyball team became NorCal champions


Image taken with permission of Matthew Yang

Rajas Habbu

It was February 2016 and I was a freshman, eager to be joining the ranks of the MVHS volleyball team and donning the purple and gold. Throughout tryouts, I’d find myself gazing at the purple championship banners with gold embroidery. There was one there for every sport. Every sport except volleyball.

Fast forward two years, in February of 2018, I walked into the field house, saw varsity on one side and junior varsity on the other. I walked to the wall where I put my bag down and got my shoes on and began warming up. I look up and see countless number of banners commemorating individual teams for winning championships, but I searched for one particular banner. It was still missing.

The more I thought about it, the more I started to think about the last point of the 2017 CCS semi-finals against Bellarmine is still fresh in my mind and no matter how hard I try, I can’t unsee it. I still remember the last block that secured Bellarmine’s victory and our defeat, and the disappointment continues to wash over me.

As practices and league games flew by, we never worried. Soon it was time for the CCS championship, a purple banner waiting to happen.

Nervousness and uneasiness ran through my body as the day grew closer, but I was confident that we would be able to succeed, I juggled the anticipations of winning and losing.

By the fourth set both teams were worn out and tired. It was tied two sets to each team and it was time for the fifth. Bellarmine started to slip away, leaving us in the dust. With a score of 15-13, they became CCS champions.

Just like that, my hopes of seeing the championship banner disappeared. It was heartbreaking, emotionally devastating.

But the season wasn’t over. We had qualified for the NorCal championship by reaching the CCS finals. The stakes were much higher.

From February to May, many of our players faced injuries. I sustained an ankle and hamstring injury that kept me from playing for two weeks and it took me a while to fully recover. I never played to my full capacity. Knowing the number of injuries that we had, the thought of winning the championship seemed like a long shot.

Eleven days passed and it was time for the NorCal quarterfinals. “Monta Vista vs. Whitney, 1st round of NorCal championships, 5/22/18. Be there.” From Facebook posts to verbal advertising, we weren’t sure how many people would show — but in just 10 minutes the bleachers were packed. We knew these guys were huge, all above 6 feet and if they had made it this far then they had to be good.

The chances seemed minuscule, but we had hope, we had confidence and we trusted each other. We knew that their height was both their strength and their weakness, if they were tall that meant it is hard for them to play defense and we would have to take advantage of that.

“25-21, MVHS defeats Whitney in three straight sets and will now face Bellarmine in the NorCal semifinals.” The day finally came, another chance at victory over Bellarmine HS, our rivals for a couple years now.

I walked into the gym and saw the Bellarmine players warming up. It was intimidating but I knew how these guys played, I knew who their strong hitter was and how well he can perform in a competitive game and what he could do to our team. But we were prepared.

“Monta Vista defeats Bellarmine 15-8 in five sets and will advance to the NorCal finals.”

I still remember the first time I walked into the MVHS gym, I believed that we would never be able to play with the best teams. But in just 4 months, we were one of the best. I remember going back home and thinking about every play and being awestruck by what our team had accomplished.

9 a.m. on May 26: I woke up feeling both excited and nervous. This game meant everything to me and to my team. The pressure was on; the thought of winning gave me strength but the thought of losing gave me uneasiness.

At 2 p.m the referee blew her whistle and the game officially started. Both teams rallied point after point and neither team backed down. We started to gain momentum slowly but still lost the first set 25-20. We were nervous, but we knew that in a championship game anything could happen and we were ready. We fought back, and slowly we were able to stop their momentum and eventually took the second set 20-25.

The same continued for the next two sets, both teams rallied and both teams took another set and it came down to the fifth set. This was the decider. We had been in a fifth set situation before, but none was as big as this. Point after point, hit after hit, block after block, both teams started to tire down, but neither wanted to show it.

Clovis started going on a run, and soon enough they had the lead, 14-11 in the fifth set. The MVHS crowd had died down and the players morale had started to diminish. I thought this was the end, but there was still some hope in us and we started to fight back. We took it slow and suddenly the score was tied at 14-14.

There was a rush that we felt, a feeling that brought tears to my eyes and a smile across my face. They scored a point and it was 15-14, but we soon tied it up at 15-15. Now the game was even and the pressure was the highest it had ever been. We served the ball, hoping for an ace but instead what we got was even bigger, a block.

“One more point, one more point!” I kept hearing left and right.

“Monta Vista Matadors beat the Clovis Cougars 17-15 in the fifth set to be the 2018 NorCal Champions.”

Through the cheering and the excitement, I refrained from crying. This was a much bigger achievement, and I was speechless. I had waited seven years to play at such a level and for five of those, I had gotten absolutely nowhere and now suddenly I had become a champion. That night I could not sleep, I didn’t want to.

I started to think about what I have learnt from this season and the first thing that came to my mind was support. There had never been a time where my teammates had not supported me, through thick and thin. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this was not a team, it was a brotherhood.

It has been four months and it still seems like it was a dream. With a new season ahead of us, I can already see myself walking into the gym, putting my bag down and tying on my shoe. But this time when I look up to the banners, there will be a purple banner with a gold embroidery saying the words that our team has been wanting to read for so long. In golden letters it will read “Boys Volleyball 2018 NorCal Champions.”