First published in the March 19 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
It has been more than a decade of unbeaten dominance for Burroughs High in the boys’ volleyball rivalry against crosstown foe Burbank. But the Bulldogs and their new coach, James Cowart, were hoping to buck that trend in the first meeting between the schools this season. Instead, it was more of the same.
The Bears served themselves a three-game sweep — 25-10, 25-8, 25-22 — in Pacific League encounter Thursday evening.
“Serve tough and serve in. That’s it,” Burroughs coach Joel Brinton said of his team’s approach. “That’s the same whether it’s Burbank or if it’s Arcadia or if it’s Oak Park in the CIF finals. It’s the same four words: serve tough, serve in.”
League-leading Burroughs (10-3 overall record, 3-0 in league) feasted at the service line as Burbank (1-6, 1-2) never got its return of serve game into gear. The Bears racked up 24 aces with seven different players getting a taste.
Chris Johnson had six aces, including five in the opening game to set the tone. Henry Carlin notched six as well, split evenly between games two and three. Justin Burras and Vinny Harris each tallied three, and both Christian Solano and Charlie Gerard each had two aces in the contest.
“I’m actually happy about what we experienced today,” Cowart said. “The boys got to see what it means to play good volleyball competition and what it is I’m asking them to play themselves. All in all, I’m very proud of how my boys played today.”
Burroughs won the first two games with ease, holding the Bulldogs without a kill in both. After that, Brinton filled the court with reserves en route to the sweep. With the Bear regulars on the sideline, game three was a competitive affair. Burbank took its first lead of the match when Ryan Viyar recorded a block for the first point of the game. The Bulldogs held the advantage until Burroughs’ Benji Ly got a kill from the outside to knot the score at 6-6. Gerard followed that with an ace to take the lead, which turned out to be for good.
The Burroughs lead peaked at 10 twice, the last time at 20-10. Bulldog Austin Kim then recorded a kill from the middle, which was made more noteworthy because it was the visitors’ first kill of the match. It started a six-point run for Burbank before a kill by Isaac Hernandez brought it to an end.
Burbank got as close as two at 23-21 following an ace by Taiyo Nakao, but JBHS’ Kyle Truett followed with a kill to set up game point. Ly secured the win with a kill from the outside.
“It was nice to see [the reserves] get out there and get the opportunity and get in a tough spot and trust themselves so they can execute,” Brinton said. “I’m glad it got a little tight there so they could figure out what they needed to do, because they aren’t getting those moments all the time.”
The beginning of game one was emblematic of the rest of the contest. The Bulldogs started by serving long. Johnson then stepped to the line for Burroughs and got an ace. The final margin of the game was the biggest of the opener.
Burroughs scored the first six points of game two behind the service game of Harris, who had three aces in the run. The Bears’ advantage peaked at 15 points before Johnson finished off the second game with a kill from the outside that went off the tape atop the net.
Entering the matchup, Cowart had experience facing Burroughs, but that was on the court as a player. Now the 2013 Burbank High graduate has the experience of patrolling the sidelines as the head of the program.
“As a coach, I’m now learning how [Brinton] is coaching. ‘Oh, he’s targeting my setter,’ and realizing how he is moving his serve around the court,” Cowart said. “It’s really humbling as a coach to now be on the opposite end playing Burroughs. Standing on the sideline as a coach, I’m able to see the game from a much different viewpoint.”