By Ed Piper When one front-line player is thoughtless enough to attend his brother’s graduation in Texas and forego an opening CIF playoff game, one has to look for a silver lining: Team members who wouldn’t normally see as much action get an opportunity for more court time in the starter’s absence.
This is being said tongue-in-cheek about Viking captain Joe Palatella, who did, in fact, travel to the Lone Star State and miss La Jolla’s first round match against visiting Mission Hills May 17. There didn’t seem to be a lot of particulates in the air, and no one was heard coughing in the stands as a result of smoke from the wildfires in North County that led to, not one, not two, but three days of postponements of the playoff game originally scheduled for Wednesday, May 14. So Palatella’s absence was partially understandable, since the match would have already taken place under normal circumstances without the intrusion of the wildfires.
The Vikings went on to romp in three straight games over the Grizzlies after a slow start saw them down 6-3 in the first game. It would have been interesting if La Jolla had faced a stronger opponent (Mission Hills was seeded 12th in the Division I playoffs, having lost as many games as won, finishing at 14-15, while La Jolla is the fifth seed, now 18-14 overall) and Palatella had gone missing. The Vikings should have been playing a second round match, so without their second-leading hitter, it would have made things tougher.
Left side hitter-blocker Jack Chapman, the Vikings’ captain who did show up, remarked on the opportunity some non-starters got to play more: “We have a lot of depth, and it was good to see some players that normally don’t see the court too much get some key playing time.” Chapman was impressive, registering kill-after-hard-smashed-kill in the first two games of the match in a hot, sweaty gym after recognition was made of the firefighters who battled the numerous wildfires much of last week.
Grant Miller, not normally a starter, started for Dave Jones’ sextet and registered a kill. Dane Pieper, a sophomore who has shown a lot of improvement this season, came off the bench and had key kills in the first game, first with the Vikings trailing 9-7 and then off the block to put them up 12-10 on the way to a 25-17 win.
Said Pieper, sporting a big, wild head of hair evincing an independent spirit, “Today was a good win. It was really great to see everybody out there and contribute.”
Alex Krzyz served an ace for a 4-2 lead in the second game. Austin Jertberg delivered kills back-to-back for 12-8 and 13-8 leads. By then, Mission Hills’ spirit was broken, with the bench, formerly vocal, falling silent as the La Jollans’ superior skill level made more evident the inevitability of the three-game sweep. Even the Vikings’ cheer section remained quiet as their heroes’ points mounted. LJHS won the second game 25-16 and the third 25-11.
It was the “Jack Chapman Show” as the high-flying junior, not towering at 6-foot-1 but otherwise impressive, demonstrated why he is the team’s leading hitter/blocker with 338 kills on the season, far more than any of his teammates. His kill percentage is 44.8%.
Alongside him Jake Northrup, only a sophomore, finished at leads of 8-4 and 12-7, and again for 18-11 and 21-12 advantages. He had five kills on the afternoon, Jertberg nine, and Chapman 10.
Gavin Heap piled up 35 assists in the match, an impressive number. He’s still developing as a sophomore his fluidity of motion. Libero Curran Robertson made 10 digs on defense.
La Jolla gained the right to play Steele Canyon, which with the fourth seed had a bye, in the second round May 20.
Asked if the delays due to the wildfires were a distraction, Jones said prior to the match, “They’re looking forward to playing.” He referred to the depth and versatility of the squad, which has gained momentum during the season and begun to put together the many talents of team members following a shiftover this season with several graduating seniors last year.