For the first time since last season’s defeat in the California Community College Athletic Association State Championship game, top ranked Orange Coast College’s men’s volleyball team suffered a shocking upset in the CCCAA Final Four Thursday night.
Staring the 22-0 Pirates down in the Fullerton College North Gym was fellow Orange Empire Conference rival Irvine Valley College in the two teams' third meeting of the season.
The Lasers took this match as an opportunity to get redemption in a big way, and did so, winning the match in four sets (26-24, 21-25, 25-21, 26-24.) The familiar foes went back-and-forth all night long, with the winning team in each set pulling away at the last possible second.
“That’s the best they’ve [Irvine Valley] played all year,” head coach Travis Turner said. “They [Irvine Valley] just played hungry, like they had lost to us twice.”
Opening the second set with a commanding 8-3 lead, Coast forced the Lasers to take an early timeout, where its coaching staff and players rallied, and brought the set to a competitive ending, where Coast clung to its lead.
Sophomore outside hitter Kyle McCauley sealed the set victory for the Pirates with a service ace right down the line.
McCauley led both teams with 18 kills in a losing effort.
Dropping the first set for the Pirates proved to be a bad omen, forcing the team to try and face adversity it hadn’t seen since Feb. 13.
Before the match even started, IVC appeared to be hungry for a win whereas Coast looked flat. The Lasers played as though they had nothing to lose and they knew it.
“We just didn’t come to play,” Turner said. “It’s the worse we blocked and hit all year.”
With its back against the wall and trailing the fourth set early 4-8, Turner called an early timeout. Coming out of it, the Pirates showed signs of life, rolling to a 13-9 lead with kills from Jack Flynn and Jake Loudenback and a service ace from Declan Holder.
Chipping away at the Pirate lead, the Lasers rallied on kills and block errors, coming all the way back to take an 18-16 lead. From there, IVC and OCC would trade possessions and points all the way to the end of the set.
With match point on everyone’s mind in the gym, Irvine’s Demetre Gossett leapt in a strong serve headed straight for the back of the court. Coast’s sophomore setter Braden Neumann attempted to avoid the ball however it hit him square in the chest and fell to the floor, effectively ending the perfect season that never was.
Coast was the heavy favorite to win the entire CCCAA State Championship, entered the Final Four for the 12th time in 13 seasons, and for five successive seasons.
“We know what it’s like and we just didn’t execute,” Turner said. “The better team won tonight.”
Shock and disbelief filled the gym of predominately Pirate fans, as fans, coaches and players were all at a loss for words.
“It’s such a good group of kids.” Turner said holding back tears. “We had a great season. One of the best one’s I’ve ever had.”
Not dwelling on the loss for too long however was Turner, who is already looking forward to the next season to redeem themselves. However, the task will not be easy as the Pirates have 12 sophomores to its nine freshman.
Going into next season, the Pirates will lose all its starters from Thursday’s match. Freshman Aiden Wolf-Nielsen, sophomores McCauley, Clark Steele and Neumann all are off to four-year universities to continue their athletic and academic careers. The four Pirates will head to UC Irvine, UC San Diego and the University of Jamestown.
OCC ends its season going 22-1 and controlling the pole position in the state rankings. Next season’s Pirates will return to play next spring with nothing short of high expectations.
“We’ll do the same thing again next year,” Turner said. “That’s the great thing about sports, you always have another season, but it’s going to be a long summer, I’ll tell you that.”