By Greg Jones
Nobody knows better than La Jolla boys volleyball Coach Dave Jones how tough the competition is in the Western League. Last season, league champions and perennial powerhouse Francis Parker ran away with the Division IV CIF Championship, while second-place Scripps Ranch took the Division II CIF Championship. University City and Saint Augustine both advanced to the semi-finals in CIF also.
An inexperienced La Jolla team went 0-12 in the Western League last spring, but after the tough league competition the young team advanced to the quarter-finals of Division III CIF before losing to eventual runner-up Westview.
According to Coach Jones, "The only time one of my La Jolla boys' teams made the CIF final, in 2003, we also went 0-12 in league. In the CIF playoffs, our last three matches were against Western League teams, losing to University High in the Championship."
The Vikings return all but one graduated senior for the 2007 Western League volleyball season. With four basketball players working into volleyball form, the team has found its rhythm recently after a slow start. In the last two weeks, La Jolla has won three of four Western League matches on the road, beating Mira Mesa in four games, Cathedral Catholic in a five game marathon, and sweeping University City last Thursday in three straight.
The La Jolla boys' best effort of the season, however, might have been a hard-fought loss to Scripps Ranch, a team ranked 5th in San Diego County. Scripps starts 6-7 opposite, Drew Huffman, signed to play for USC next year, and rugged 6-5 middle, Mitch Wissing, who will play for Rutgers. In the match at Scripps, La Jolla came out with its aggressive jump serve and blocking game, and led two games to one, before Scripps scratched back for the victory in five games to hold on to first place and an undefeated league record.
"It's been an interesting season," Coach Jones said, acknowledging the highs and lows and some inconsistent play. "We're mostly the same team from last season, and now we're building on that with still a lot of work to do."
The Viking attack is led by returning 6-4 senior setter, co-captain Andrew Heap, and Matt Jones, a 6-3 junior outside hitter who nailed 18 kills against Scripps Ranch. Both Heap and Jones earned second team Division III All-CIF last season.
Senior middles Kenny Sawyer, 6-6, and Jack Waddell, 6-5, have stepped up their blocking and attacking, while third-year varsity outside hitter, 6-3, 215-pound junior Kevin Leyva, hits a heavy ball.
Senior co-captain Sammy Awwad provides hustle and enthusiasm at libero (back row defensive specialist), while sophomore Tyler Heap and junior Dylan Lesniak fill in on the back row and front line along with juniors Mickey Goese, Ja'Rodd Watson, Alex Reynolds, and Danny Breslow.
"The most encouraging thing," Coach Jones says, "is that we're carrying over things from practice into games. We continue to work on our serve and receive. We're trying cut down on unforced errors and avoid giving the opposition points. We also need to improve our blocking."
The Vikings are 7-7 against San Diego County teams to date, with four of those losses to teams ranked in the top 10 in the county polls. Close losses to Scripps and eighth-ranked Otay Ranch indicate the Vikings are coming along. Going into a tough test this Thursday, April 29th, at 3 p.m. at Francis Parker, the Vikings are 3-4 in the Western League, their best start in many seasons.
Coach Jones adds, "Leadership is another key to our success and improvement. Our setter and co-captain, Andrew Heap, continues to improve both as a setter and a team leader."
With Heap, also the co-captain of the basketball team, at the helm, things are looking up for the La Jolla boys' volleyball team.
This weekend, Friday and Saturday, April 30th and 31st, the Vikings travel to the Los Angeles south bay to compete in the toughest boys high school volleyball tournament in California, the Redondo Beach Classic, which features, among other top-rated teams, Manhattan Beach Mira Costa.
Upon return, the Vikings have a fortunate schedule, playing their last four Western League matches on their home court at Saint Augustine, Tuesday, May 1st at 3:15, Mira Mesa, Thursday, May 3rd at 3:15 p.m., Scripps Ranch, Tuesday, May 8th at 3:45 p.m., and Cathedral Catholic, Thursday, May 10th at 3 p.m.