By Austin Green
John Burroughs boys’ volleyball was a juggernaut throughout the regular season, steamrolling through league and nonleague opponents alike, with the only exception a five-set loss to La Canada St. Francis, another area volleyball powerhouse.
But Burroughs’ season came to a screeching halt in the CIF Southern Section Division 2 quarterfinals on Wednesday as the Bears were dominated by Huntington Beach in straight sets, 25-16, 26-24, 25-16. It was the first and only time Joel Brinton’s squad was swept this season.
“You look at that team and they have guys good enough at getting over on the block across the board… we don’t see that in league,” Brinton said. “That’s why we usually try to play a tough nonleague schedule so we’re ready to go for that stuff, but in this COVID year it just wasn’t possible.”
The Bears still nearly tied the match in the second set, up 23-20 at one point thanks to senior outside hitter Kade McGovern, who nearly singlehandedly willed his team with nine kills in that set alone. Burroughs also got two clutch saves from McGovern and setter Christian Solano from well inside the Bears’ bench out of bounds to keep the game tied at 17 earlier in the set.
But coming out of a timeout, Huntington Beach got two kills from senior opposite hitter Trent Douphner and another from senior middle blocker Drake Goerig, and two of McGovern’s final three kill attempts of the match sailed wide, including the point to seal the second set for the Oilers at 26-24.
Afterward, Huntington Beach coach Craig Pazanti shared his simple timeout message to his players.
“Just to relax, just to trust the process… control what we can control,” Pazanti said. “And I think that they did that. They had a good pass, good set, good hit, all of a sudden it’s 24-all, and we put the pressure back on them.”
Huntington Beach quickly established itself early in the first set, going on a 13-0 run to take a 15-2 lead and eventually led by as many as 14 points. Douphner had four aces during the run, setting the tone for the Oilers to dominate in service throughout the match.
Burroughs made a late run of its own as McGovern started to heat up, but it was too little, too late.
“Their guy got hot and we got stuck,” Brinton said. “It happens. Just a really bad time for it to happen in a playoff game.”
Huntington Beach did not let up in the third set, either. With Burroughs’ 2016 boys volleyball state championship banner staring back at them from the opposite wall of the gymnasium, the Oilers scored 14 of the set’s final 18 points thanks to some strong net play from Douphner and outside hitter Liam Phinizy, ending the Bears’ season.
“We knew coming in here that the volleyball tradition is pretty rich,” Pazanti said. “Any time you can come on the road, especially a pretty good distance… it’s a good thing.”
McGovern finished with a team-high 12 kills, two blocks and a service ace. Middle blocker Chris Johnson finished with two kills while setter Carter Cottrell had five kills and an ace. Middle blocker Mark Hopkins added three kills and a block, Solano had a kill and an ace, outside hitter Justin Burras had three kills, outside hitter Michael Cutone had one kill and outside hitter Jeremy Lapeze had one ace.
Burroughs finished with an 8-2 overall record, which included a sweep of Valencia in the second round of CIF-SS playoffs on May 20. Brinton’s program also extended its streak of Pacific League titles to 11 with a 4-0 record in league play.
Though his team fell short of the deep playoff run it has become accustomed to, Brinton still had glowing praise for his 2021 roster, especially its seniors: McGovern, Cottrell, Cutone, outside hitter Kalani Coquia and libero Cole Kvarda, who recovered from a tough first set to turn in a nice defensive performance in sets two and three.
“These guys showed up every day and did everything we asked of them,” Brinton said. “They busted their tails to become the best they can. I think, given the shortened timeframe and what our team is made up of, I couldn’t have asked anything more from this group. I was telling some of the seniors beforehand, whenever they leave, it’s gonna be a really bittersweet day. I was just hoping it wasn’t today.”