Ben Sherman, henry Haber
San Marcos hitter Toby Still runs into the green wall of Santa Barbara blockers Ben Sherman (9) and Henry Haber. (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

The Santa Barbara High boys volleyball team put up an impressive block against a potent San Marcos attack.

In a Channel League first-place showdown at San Marcos, the Dons continually came up with clutch blocks to frustrate the Royals, got 35 kills from Stanford-bound Will Rottman and 16 digs from sophomore libero Matt Suh to post a 29-31, 25-21, 25-18, 25-19 victory on Tuesday night.

The victory puts the CIF-SS Division 1-2 ninth-ranked Dons in sole possession of first place in league at 4-0 and gives them a 7-4 overall mark. San Marcos, ranked 17th, falls to 3-1 and 11-3.

A big-time hitter, Rottman is now convinced that clamping down for a big block feels better.

“That’s the best feeling,” he said. “My dad always says a good block feels better than a good swing. I use to argue him until I started getting blocks like that. Now I agree.”

Santa Barbara got blocks in key moments in their set victories. 

Matt Suh

Santa Barbara libero Matt Suh picks up one of his 16 digs on a ball that gets past blocker Will Rottman (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

In the second set, it was Kylan O’Connor recording a block against one of the Royals’ middles to give the Dons an 18-17 lead. Later, Henry Haber combined with Ben Sherman for a block on the outside for a 22-20 advantage.

Rottman stuffed San Marcos in the middle in the third set for a 10-8 lead, and the Dons went on a 7-3 run to go up 17-11.

In the fourth set, setter Peter Tebbe ran back to the net and blocked a ball which the Dons converted into a side-out kill by O’Connor to take a 10-8 advantage. Sam Meister had a solo block and combined with Sherman for another rejection during a five-point run that gave Santa Barbara a commanding 17-10 lead.

Rottman credited the coaching of Jon Roberts with helping the Dons improve on their blocking during practice leading up to Tuesday’s showdown. Roberts is one UCSB’s all-time great middle blockers.

“He basically transformed our blocking and that was super key for us tonight, so a huge shout out to him,” said Rottman. “We were basically able to shut them down with blocking and getting low and over — just fundamental blocking, that’s all we needed. That really set us over. San Marcos is a good team, so it was good to put up a good block against them.”

Said coach Chad Arneson of the blocking help: “It obviously paid off.  We’re closing off the block better, making it easier for our defenders. We’re not overreaching. We have pretty tall team, so if we can get a lot of hands on the balls that’s a good thing.”

O’Connor was credited with four blocks and Rottman had three blocks to lead Santa Barbara. Meister had a solo block to go with 10 kills.

Middle Parker Bittner led San Marcos with 14 kills and nine blocks, Brennan Ware had 12 kills and six blocks and Toby Still added 10 kills. Jacob Yinger led the defense with 14 digs and setter Tanner Stevens handed out 45 assists.

San Marcos coach Roger Kuntz said his team struggled with its ball control after the first set.


Will Rottman of Santa Barbara blasts a spike between San Marcos blockers Tanner Stevens, left and Cade McLean. (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

“They got a lot of fire power and we made a lot of mistakes in serve-receive tonight, and normally we’re a little bit stronger than that,” he said. “(Santa Barbara) just played a lot better. They served a little bit tougher and we had a couple of holes where we couldn’t get up and get into system.

“We were too vanilla — too predictable. And against a great team like that you can’t be too predictable.”

The first set went back and forth. San Marcos took a 24-23 lead on an ace serve but a serving error after a Santa Barbara timeout knotted the score for the 17th time. 

After the 22nd tie, Ware scored on a dink and the Royals won when a sharp-angle kill by Rottman was ruled out bounds, giving them a 31-29 victory.

“I was really proud of our guys to bounce back from that,” Rottman said.  “I’m an emotional guy and I really felt that (hit) was in. Our guys bounced back even though I was really pissed off. That was really good.”

Kuntz felt his team was at the top of its game in the first set but was unable to sustain it in the next three sets.

“We had our ‘A’ game in the first game but we didn’t have our ‘A’ game the next two-three games,” he said.

Rottman’s reached high over the blockers and angled a kill to start a seven-point serving run by Suh in the second set to put the Dons ahead 15-10. He had two kills in the run and Suh had an ace. 

San Marcos fought back as Ware got hot from the outside to spark a five-point run that pulled the Royals even at 15-15.

The teams traded points until Rottman sided out for a 21-20 lead. Haber and Sherman followed with a block before San Marcos got a side out on a serving error.

At 22-21, Rottman got a side out on an off-speed shot to the back court. He got a kill from the left side and crushed the final point to even the match a 1-1.

Rottman gave Santa Barbara the lead for good in the third set with a big hit down the line off a Tebbe set and followed with a stuff block in the middle for a 10-8 advantage.

The Royals got as close as 20-16 before Santa Barbara outscored them 5-2 down the stretch.

A solo block by Riley Roach helped the Dons get off to 7-3 start in the fourth set in which they lost Haber to an injury after taking a Toby Still spike off his face.

“I have to give props to Peter Tebbe,” Arneson said. “He did a good job running our offense in terms of keeping us on track. It was team win for sure.”

Santa Barbara’s Sam Meister rips one off the San Marcos blockers for match point. The Dons won The Channel League showdown in four sets.

— NoozhawkSports (@NoozhawkSports) March 20, 2019

The Dons extended the lead to 17-10 before San Marcos made a run and pulled to within 18-14.

Rottman sided out on an off-speed shot and the Dons scored again off a Suh dig followed by a Rottman kill. Sherman delivered in the middle for a 21-14 lead. 

Suh’s digs were like pin-point passes, and Santa Barbara converted many of them into points. 

“We were in system off of Matt’s digs and  that’s pretty impressive,” said Arneson.

“Matt Suh played friggin terrrfic defense, proving he is by far the best libero in town,” said Rottman

A San Marcos hitting error followed by an O’Connor kill of an overpass put Santa Barbara up 23-14.

San Marcos made a three-point run off the combined block of Josh Willbanks and Ware and a solo by Bittner. 

Roach sided out for the Dons and Meister finished off the match by ripping a ball off the block and out of bounds.

“It was fun match to watch, lots of good passing, good swings,” Rottman said. “Credit my guys for picking me up again. That was huge.”

— Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.