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Boys Volleyball

Dos Pueblos Stays Focused, Takes Out Santa Barbara in Three

Eli Wopat of Dos Pueblos pokes the ball between Santa Barbara blockers Will Rottman (15) and JM Cage.
Eli Wopat of Dos Pueblos pokes the ball between Santa Barbara blockers Will Rottman (15) and JM Cage. (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk photo)

It was an unforgettable night for the Dos Pueblos boys volleyball team.

The Chargers stayed focused and in system most of the night and took out Santa Barbara High in three sets in a Channel League first-place showdown on Thursday night at J.R. Richards Gym. The scores were 25-21, 25-23, 25-21.

The victory puts DP on track to share the league title with the Dons. The Chargers are 5-1 in league and Santa Barbara is 6-1.

Just as it did in the first meeting (a four-set loss), DP won the first set. The difference in the rematch was the Chargers never let up and kept their composure. Every time Santa Barbara made a run at them they had an answer.

Eli Wopat provided most of the answers. The Stanford-bound lefty outside hitter blasted 19 kills.

“This time we came in after the first set and I just told everyone, ‘Don’t stop here, keep improving, keep going up.’ That really made a difference tonight,” Wopat said.

The match had special significance for the senior. “It means a lot because it’s the last time I’m playing here and I’ve never beat Santa Barbara in their house my entire career. This is huge for me, and we swept them in three. It goes to show how much work they put in, my teammates.”

Setter Alex Cheng showed great improvement and composure. He ran an efficient offense and was on-point with middles Adam Shields and Elliot Brainerd, who each had six kills. He fed Jack Burns for seven kills on the outside.

Jack Burns rips the ball down the line against Santa Barbara blockers Cord Pereira (5) and JM Cage. Click to view larger
Jack Burns rips the ball down the line against Santa Barbara blockers Cord Pereira (5) and JM Cage. (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk photo)

“It just feels so good for everything to click like we work on in practice,” Wopat said. “Our defense was amazing tonight. It’s really hard to describe how happy it makes me when everything works as planned.”

Santa Barbara had its chances to win sets 2 and 3. In the second set, Blake Kelley gave the Dons a boost with a kill, solo block and a hit down the line to cut DP’s lead to 23-22 But Wopat came back with a thunderous spike and Shields scored in the middle to pull out the win.

In the third set, Santa Barbara roared out to a 5-0 lead and was up 10-5.  But DP crept back behind solid back-row play from Parker Crossland and the hitting of Shields and Brainerd in the middle. A Brainerd kill after a great save by Shields pulled the Chargers to 12-11.

Santa Barbara built its lead back to three (15-12), but the Chargers stayed strong and went on a 4-0 run, with Wopat blasting the fourth point for their first lead of the set, 16-15. He crushed another spike after the defense picked up a Dons’ tip and Shields scored the next two points for a 19-16 advantage.

DP scored three points off a Santa Barbara violation and two serving errors and Shields hit off the block for match point.

“We were finally able to win the mental battle, that was it,” Wopat noted. “We’re a talented team, we have a lot of good outsides, good middles and defensive players. It was just finding a way to keep it going throughout the match.”

Said DP coach Ehren Hug: “I thought they were very even keel tonight and kept the positivity and kept the belief up.”

Santa Barbara coach Chad Arneson lauded the play of Wopat and the Chargers.

“They obviously came ready to play and our kids, too, came ready to play,” he said. “I thought we were prepared but at the same time we made a lot of uncharacteristic errors that we shouldn’t be making. 

“I felt we didn’t execute,” he added. “We weren’t smart with our serving selections. Our passing was OK but our hitting was little rough. We couldn’t put balls away but part of that was due to their tough team defense.  They played with a lot of energy and I thought we were too up and down for the most part.”

Kelley led the Dons with 12 kills, Bolden Brace had 11 and Cooper Johnson added eight in the middle.

Hug called the win “one for the lifetime highlight reel. To watch a player like Eli go off on sets from a player who is so young to the game like Alex… I thought Alex set a great match tonight. He got our two outsides, Curren Malhotra and Jack Burns, involved and the confidence was there in all facets of the game. I couldn’t be happier.”

Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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