By Jeremy Balan
SAN JOSE – The Sacred Heart Cathedral boys volleyball team was letting top-seeded Mt. Madonna back in the match.
After Sacred Heart won the first game of the Central Coast Section Division II championship with relative ease, Mt. Madonna led 20-13 in the second, but suddenly, the Hawks couldn’t get the ball past the Irish block.
Spurred by a stretch of six point-scoring blocks, the Irish went on a 12-3 run to end the game and took a commanding two-game lead, then finished off Mt. Madonna in the third to seal a 25-16, 25-23, 25-19 win on Tuesday at Independence High School.
The win gives the Irish (25-12) their first CCS boys volleyball championship in school history.
“For us, it’s been a long time, in terms of our program,” said Sacred Heart head coach Nga Tran, who led the Irish to the CCS championship game in her first year with the program in 2006, when they fell to Los Gatos in the title game. “We’ve always been inching along and this unassuming group did a phenomenal job. They were chipping away all season and that’s what happened in game two and game three.”
Four of the eight blocks that came in the final Irish push in the second game came on consecutive points that turned a 22-19 Mt. Madonna lead into a 23-22 Irish advantage, but one stood out.
With the Irish down 22-20, Sacred Heart senior setter Ryan Nievera and middle blocker Stephen Tan went up for a block. The Mt. Madonna attack struck Nievera’s left hand, then caromed off of Tan’s face and fell to the floor, in bounds, on the Mt. Madonna side of the net.
“It hit off his hand and off my face,” Tan said. “I was going to go for it, but it hit my face and I didn’t know what to do. I just saw it go down on the other side and I started cheering.”
Tan then blocked another ball to give the Irish a 23-22 lead and put down a kill to extend the advantage to 24-22. The junior finished with four blocks and six kills in the match.
“He was huge,” Tran said. “Off of transition, when our middles are scoring, we’re unstoppable. At that point, people are guessing.”
Prior to the Irish run in the second game, however, Mt. Madonna outside hitter Jake Getz looked unstoppable.
The junior had nine kills and an ace before the Irish run in the second, but was shut out for the rest of the game and only tallied two in the third.
“[Getz] had his way with us,” Tran said. “I told them that if we shut him down, he was the key to our victory. When we shut him down, we were able to keep a rhythm going.”
For the entire Irish run to finish the second game, Getz was stuck in the back row, only a point away from getting back into the front-row rotation. The junior finished with a match-high 11 kills.
“We got stuck in a tough rotation, and a couple of hitters were in a slump and matched up with their best blockers,” said Mt. Madonna head coach P.K. McDonald. “They were playing big, we got in a tough rotation and couldn’t get out of it.”
The Hawks (24-8) weren’t dead yet, though, and held seven separate leads in the deciding third game, but Sacred Heart took a 16-15 lead and ended the match on a 11-4 run.
For Mt. Madonna, a school of approximately 65 students that features volleyball as its only varsity sport, the loss is their second consecutive straight in the CCS championship game.
“If we would have won that third game, I think we still could have gone on to win the match,” McDonald said. “It’s too bad, because we got a lot of tough breaks in that match. It’s a really disappointing finish, because the score and the outcome is not going to show how much work the boys put into it.”