By Jung Su Park
The boys’ varsity volleyball team had one final game to win for an undefeated regular season: an away matchup against the Gabrielino Bald Eagles in which the Tigers beat them in four sets with the set scores 26-24, 25-23, 25-17 and 25-10. Although junior Max Luck was sidelined due to an ankle injury suffered in the previous game against Temple City Rams, the boys managed to pull a victory on the road, rise to 23-1-1 in their overall record, and clinch the Rio Hondo League title with an 8-0 league record.
South Pasadena appeared lackluster in the opening period as it missed Luck’s versatility as both a setter and a hitter on the offensive floor. The Tigers allowed the Bald Eagles, whom they dominantly beat 3-0 in the previous meeting at the main gym, to keep the match extremely close as both squads went head to head all the way until 20-20. Juniors Greg Luck and Matthew Ng provided offensive firepower by completing crucial kills toward the opening set victory; however, errors in serving down the stretch near the end of the first set proved to be detrimental for the Tigers. Gabrielino made a strong statement in its home court by exerting consistent defensive pressure to beat the number one-seeded Tigers 26-24.
The Tigers hoped to bounce back from the sloppy start to the match that costed them a loss in the opening set. Despite South Pas’s effort to shift the momentum on its favor and reduce mistakes, the boys continued to make errors, this time in hitting. Tiger kill attempts frequently landed outside of the boundary line to give easy points to Gabrielino and an early 13-7 lead to the home team. Juniors Alex Nakagawa and Scott Kawakami brought out one of their hardest efforts on defense, however, to rally the Tigers to gradually inch closer and erase the deficit. The flow of the game slowly turned in the visiting squad’s favor as the Tigers took a crucial 19-17 edge heading into the second set’s crunch time. Nakagawa and Kawakami kept up their headstrong defensive efforts and digged many of Gabrielino’s kill attempts to lead the Tigers into a close 25-23 win.
Momentum gained from the Tigers’ strong play to secure the finishing points of the second set continued to the third set. Freshman Cole Schroeder got himself in an accurate serving streak to spark up the South Pas offense. Coordination between the hitters and the setters worked out phenomenally to hand the Tigers a 11-5 advantage. However, the Bald Eagles would not disappear easily as they came right back by feeding off of Tiger mistakes and improved offensive plays to tie the match 12-12. Such trend of an even matchup did not continue into the ending minutes of the set. Kawakami found success in serving to produce six straight aces and finish out the third period 25-17 to place the Tigers in a winning spot at 2-1 in set counts.
Heading into the fourth set of the game after three periods of tight matchups, Gabrielino seemed to be heavily affected by fatigue while South Pas re-energized itself by elaborating on successes in the past two sets. Every aspect of the game, from hitting, serving, to receiving, was working for the Tigers. Sophomore Matt Scholtz performed especially well with quality kills and contributed to shutting down the home team 17-7 midway through the fourth set. The Tigers never looked backed and routed the Bald Eagles 25-10 behind offensive firepower from Luck, Ng, and Scholtz and playmaking abilities and defensive efforts from Nakagawa, Kawakami, and Schroeder.
The Tigers will hit the road tomorrow to face the Bishop Amat Lancers in a postseason matchup before heading into the CIF playoffs. With the victory, the Tigers hope to stand at a 24-1-1 overall record.