The Plank: Three major takeaways from OCC sports this past week

(Top) Freshman attacker Macy Andrade (#18) takes a shot in the Pirates’ home win over Cypress College on Wednesday. (Middle) Sophomore quarterback Brandon Cannella (#12) throws a pass in OCC’s home loss against Citrus College on Saturday. (Bottom) Middle blocker Paige Cutwright (#10) and sophomore opposite Izzy Duchaine (#9) go up for the block in OCC’s home win over Cypress on Oct. 5. 

Welcome to the first fall 2022 edition of The Plank, Coast Report’s weekly sports column that will highlight key takeaways from Orange Coast College sports programs.

This fall semester has seen excellence from several Pirates athletic teams so far, such as women’s volleyball, as well as women’s and men’s water polo. This week’s column will take a look inside the success of those program’s seasons, and also cover a potential quarterback swap for OCC football that has been brewing for quite some time now. 

Women’s volleyball sees success with a new 5-1 lineup 

Most would not expect a team as dominant as the Pirates to unlock a new winning strategy in the middle of the season, but head coach Chuck Cutenese’s squad may have done just that this past week. After suffering a four-set upset loss to conference rival Santa Ana College, the Pirates rolled into their next contest with a new lineup, inserting freshman outside hitter Alexandra Selivanov into a starting role and making freshman setter Grace Holmgren the team’s only setter. 

“Our second setters have all been out with injuries and so we decided to stick with one setter and run a 5-1 until we’re 100%,” Cutenese said. 

A 5-1 offensive system relies on just one setter and five hitters for all six rotations. The 6-2 system, OCC’s most used this season, uses two different setters, depending on who is in the back row in the rotation.  

Holmgren excelled in her first game in her new role as the team’s only setter, as she went for a season-high 32 assists in just three sets against Saddleback College on Wednesday. 

“If you think too much, then you’ll mess up, so I just go with the flow,” Holmgren said of her performance. 

With Holmgren setting up the offense, the Bobcats were no match for OCC’s balanced attack, as five Pirates finished with six or more kills. Coast would go on to sweep a surging Saddleback team that was previously winners of three straight. 

“It gave us a different look,” Cutenese said. “We weren't sure how we were going to do but I think it worked out really well.” 

Coast carried on with the 5-1 lineup against conference rival Fullerton College on Friday and saw similar results, sweeping the Hornets 3-0. 

“It’s new to everybody, so we’re all adapting to it, but we’re playing really well and we’re all finally finding our chemistry as a team,” said freshman outside hitter Rose Whitter

Freshman Ayres deserves another shot at quarterback 

After consecutive blowout losses, OCC’s first victory of the season over Santa Monica City College feels like a distant memory. 

Three weeks ago, the Pirates defeated the Corsairs at home in a 41-7 rout in front of OCC faithful. In the win, freshman quarterback Baylor Ayres was given his first OCC career start and put together the best performance we have seen under center from a Pirate this season, going 18 of 25 passing for 205 yards and five total touchdowns. However, despite the strong start, Ayres has been unable to keep hold of the starting position. 

In the following matchup with Mt. San Jacinto College, Ayres was only able to attempt nine passes, five of which he completed for 22 yards, before being benched in the second half for sophomore Brandon Cannella, who began the season as the starter. Cannella went 4-for-17 through the air for 54 yards in the half. 

Despite his low completion rate the week before, Cannella was given the start Saturday against conference opponent Citrus College and completed 11 of his 22 passes for 83 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in a 31-6 loss

“I just need to be a lot better,” Cannella said. 

OCC head coach Bubba Gonzalez was critical of the team’s air attack, or lack thereof, on Saturday.

“We’re struggling to get the passing game going,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve had opportunities, we’ve had guys open, the run game got going which opened up the passing game, but we’re just not able to take advantage of the open receivers so we need to be better in that area.” 

As the Pirates continue to struggle getting production from the quarterback position this season, Ayres deserves another chance to start this week against Glendale College

The biggest disparity between the two Pirates quarterbacks is in passing efficiency. Ayres has completed 62.5% of his attempts this season, compared to Cannella’s 45.5%, while also maintaining a higher yards per passing attempt. Against Santa Monica, Ayres displayed the ability to make tight window throws while outside the pocket, which brings a new element for  the Pirate passing offense. 

With OCC’s second American Metro Conference game on the horizon, the Pirates should turn to the more mobile and efficient quarterback against Glendale. 

Water polo programs prepare for last stretch of conference play

With only three weeks until round one of the SoCal Regionals, both OCC water polo programs are set to finish out their conference schedule in just two games. Each team will face Golden West College and Fullerton College in the next two weeks, in matches that will certainly shake up the men’s and women’s Orange Empire Conference standings. 

For the women’s team, a dominant 16-2 campaign so far leaves them in second place in the conference currently, only behind 18-1 Fullerton. The Pirates have a perfect 3-0 conference record, and have won nine straight non-conference tournament contests. The matchup with the Hornets on Oct. 26 could give the Pirates a chance for first place in the conference, but before that, they will have to take care of business on Wednesday at home against the fourth place Rustlers

Men’s water polo is an even 8-8 in non-conference play this season, but has a 2-1 OEC record and sits in third place in the conference standings. 

The Pirates have faced a tough tournament schedule this season, with six of their nine losses coming in tournament games, but head coach Dan Matulis believes these tournaments have prepared the team well for the upcoming final stretch. 

“This is something our strength of schedule allows us to do,” Matulis said. “Putting our team in hard tournament games benefits us when we get into conference games.” 

OCC’s toughest conference matchup left takes place at home Wednesday against second place Golden West. The Rustlers have bested OCC once already this season, but a win for the Pirates would tie both team’s conference records at 3-1. Coast will then finish out its conference schedule against last place Fullerton on Oct. 26.

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