The comeback kids: Despite quarterfinal loss to Harker in CCS, the volleyball team ends the season feeling like champions

May 24, 2023 — by Derek Liang, Andrew Lin and Aiden Ye
Photo by Andrew Lin
Junior Eric Norris and sophomore Ryan Backhus successfully block the ball and score a point against Los Gatos on May 3.
The Falcons made CCS for the first time in four years.

After a huge turnaround performance compared to last year’s winless season, the boys’ volleyball team finished 8th in CCS Division II, following a 3-0 loss to Harker in the quarterfinals on May 9. During the match, Harker kept the Falcons at 25-17 and 25-16 in the first two sets. In the third set, the team clung onto a last chance to force a fourth game, but came up short with a final score of 25-22. 

Harker targeted the Falcons’ weaknesses, notably their defense near the edges of the net, after coming to watch their first CCS game against Mills on May 8, where the team won 3-0. Harker’s middle blocker also targeted the deep corners because of how far up the Falcons’ sides were pinched. These hits, combined with a fast playstyle from Harker, allowed them to catch the Falcons off guard.

The team finished second in the El Camino division with a record of 10-5, behind only Los Altos with a record of 14-1. This year marked the first time in four years that the Falcons made CCS.

“We came out with a fire this year. We didn’t want to repeat what we did last year [going 0-14], so we were all determined to train really hard, even before the season started,” said junior co-captain Samuel Kau.

The Falcons lost their senior night game against Palo Alto 3-2 on May 4, won 3-1 against Los Gatos on May 3, won 3-1 against Fremont on April 28, won 3-1 against Kings’ Academy on April 27, won 3-1 against Palo Alto on April 19, lost 3-2 against Los Gatos on April 7, won 3-1 against Fremont on April 1, won 3-0 against King’s Academy on March 30, won 3-0 against Palo Alto on March 25, won 3-0 against Los Gatos on March 23, and won 3-0 against Fremont on March 18.

Three out of five of the Falcons’ losses were to Los Altos, with whom they competed tightly but were never able to beat. Junior co-captain Kali Duvvuri, who won the 16u national championship last year with his club, partially attributes the team’s losses to Los Altos to their dependence on momentum. During some games, both teams managed to get into positions where they scored many points in a row. This put the Falcons at a disadvantage when the opposing team gained significant momentum, like with Los Altos’ last-minute 6-point streak that cost the Falcons the game during their final match on April 21.

“We’ve had a season-long problem of getting into ruts and letting our mistakes pile up,” Duvvuri said.

Coach Lori Gragnola said next season, the team can break out of ruts and prevent games from being as close as they sometimes are by “coming together as a team on the court, just to make sure that everybody knows that it’s OK if you made a mistake.”

Despite occasional challenges, the team’s chemistry was strong throughout the entire season. Freshman outside hitter Jeremy Si, who boosted the team’s offense with his strong serves, said Kau was a powerful motivational force during practices and games.

“He [Kau] does a really good job of raising morale,” Si said. “During games and timeouts, he keeps the energy up for the team.”

Looking at the season as a whole, players said their teamwork improved dramatically, and although the season didn’t end exactly the way they wanted, they more than met their goals. Many of the underclassmen on the varsity team showed promise of becoming the team’s new leaders next year, with Kau noting that freshman outside hitter Brennan Pak will be key to filling the large shoes left behind by senior outside hitter Seth Hulme.

“Next year, I think [Si’s] gonna step up,” Duvvuri said. “This year, he was primarily a serving specialist. Next year, he’s gonna have a huge role.” 

In addition to Si and Pak, other players anticipated to become key to next year’s success include junior outside hitter Eric Norris, junior outside hitter Kau and junior middle blockers Edmond Hsu and Scotty Rich.

Early in the season, Norris said that optimism and team energy was going to be a big factor for the team. Upon the end of the season, he thinks that both the team energy and crowd energy delivered in the games was phenomenal.

“I think that the optimism we had going into the season paid off, we’ve really been able to deliver and make it further than in multiple past years,” Norris said. “ The sense of optimism we clung onto reflects our season very well.”

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