SoCal High School Volleyball: Local Girls Do Good
You know you’ve been doing this for a while when you start coming back to the same venues for season-ending events – and it’s a different season.
In late May, in Event # 15 on the “It’s Game Time Somewhere” Tour, I visited Cypress College to take in the spectacle that was the CIF Southern Section Boys Volleyball Championships. Now half a year and 57 events later, there I was again – only this time to witness the distaff side do battle.
While one of the Boys Championships featured a school not too far away from the rustic home office of the IGTS Tour, the Girls Championships went one step further in terms of providing a rooting interest. The featured bout (there’s that boxing influence sneaking in again…) of the day-long volleyball extravaganza was the Division 1AA Championship match-up between heavily favored Long Beach Polytechnic High School and Redondo Union High School.
Long Beach Poly has spent a good bit of time this season at #1 in the MaxPreps Freeman Rankings. Not #1 in SoCal. Not #1 in the state of California. No, we’re talking #1 in the entire U.S. of A. Their appearance in the title game was, how shall I say it…not exactly breaking news. In fact, they had lost just one game in their combined play-off matches prior to the finals – and that by a score of 25 to 23. So they’re fairly good.
But Redondo Union had one undeniable intangible going for it: They’re from the Sports Fan’s town! From my neighborhood, in fact!! The grandstand that I’m occupying for the photo in the banner of this website? Yup – the proud property of the Redondo Union Sea Hawks.
Needless to say, I was stoked. As for The Bird…well, she just rolled her eyes and suggested that I look into procuring a life. But she didn’t have to be asked twice to tag along. And off we went to Don Johnson Court (or was it Sonny Crockett?), the centerpiece of the Cypress College Field House.
Here’s another thing that happens when you go to enough events to span two seasons – inflation. I’m almost positive that a ticket to the Boys Championship was $8, while on this particular evening I shelled out $9 for a ticket. But still…nine bucks for this kind of drama? Please.
There’s something about girls high school athletics that mines the purity of sports. Everything’s more casual, and nobody seems to take themselves overly seriously. Hey, the Redondo Union coach, Tommy Chaffins, turned up in pink sneakers. Probably to match the pink Hawaiian shirts that the entire coaching staff wore.
When it came to preparing for the game though, it was all business. Chaffins ran his charges through an extensive series of pre-game drills and maneuvers, ostensibly to hone their skills and intensity for the game. But I’m sure it was partly to keep them moving and not focused on the enormity of the task at hand.
While this was going on, the Jackrabbits of Long Beach Poly were engaged in their own routine. Lying face-down in a circle at the end of the gym, they were…talking. Who knows about what. Maybe about being 35-2. Maybe about having dispatched Redondo Union once already this season, at the Sea Hawks own invitational tournament, no less. “They’re bonding” said The Bird. Oh.
I was glad that we had decided to come early and scope out a good seat, for as was the case in May, these Volleyball Championships tend to draw well. Once again, a sizable gym was filled more or less to capacity with boisterous fans. Maybe the boys had a slightly larger crowd – but then again, I don’t recall seeing the full Fox Sports West broadcast crew (including three analysts) that the ladies drew.
Just prior to the pre-game ceremonies the Redondo Union fans started a recognizable call-and-response chant with a loud “We Are…”. But the response part of that cheer – something I expected to be “Sea Hawks” – wasn’t forthcoming. Instead, the Long Beach Poly fans on the opposite side of the gym bellowed “Long Beach”.
At first I thought that the Sea Hawk fans were a little naïve, having just served up to the Jackrabbit fans the opportunity to steal some Redondo thunder. After the third or fourth rendition though, it dawned on me; the Redondo fans were doing this on purpose – as an invitation to their opposite number to show support for their own team.
It was a display of sportsmanship that you just don’t see all that often these days, and when they had gone through about a dozen back and forths, both sides of the gym stood and applauded each other. I’m not afraid to admit it – the Sports Fan got a little misty.
Once they got down to it, the match was all execution for the Jackrabbits, and all grit and desire for the decidedly smaller Redondo Union team. And the latter knew a little something about winning as an underdog.
In 2006, the Sea Hawks had been in the same position against perennial volleyball powerhouse Mira Costa High School – and had improbably walked away with the championship. A mainstay on that team was a senior named Devon Dykstra, who subsequently earned a scholarship to play for the University of Colorado.
The senior leader of this Redondo Union team is Lara Dykstra, Devon’s younger sister. In fact, the current Sea Hawks have a Dykstra “two-fer” which includes sophomore Skylar. There was something epic brewing here…
Long Beach Poly came out blazing, executing one perfect play after another, raining down kill shots on the heads of the outgunned Sea Hawks. In the first game, it seemed that any points that accrued to Redondo were the result of Jackrabbit mistakes born of over-aggression. After a while Redondo managed to stop the bleeding, but Game 1 was, as the saying goes, not as close as the 25-20 final score would indicate.
But Game 2…well that was a different story.
Having learned that pretty much any standard offensive play that they ran would result in a block by Poly’s formidable front line, the Sea Hawks started to focus on turning those unwanted second opportunities into points. They dedicated themselves to relentless defensive play, digging at everything that came over the net and looking to place, rather than force shots. And it worked.
Redondo jumped out to an early lead, and knocked the Jackrabbits just enough off their game that they started to make mistakes. It was 13-6 before Long Beach Poly called a time out – which didn’t derail the Sea Hawk momentum one bit. Game 2 went to Redondo 25-16. It was the fewest points that Poly had scored in a game all year long.
Early in Game 3, an absolutely phenomenal point was played, during which each team rallied repeatedly to somehow save and return the ball against all odds. The digging and diving that took place during that rally seemed to suspend time – I really have no clue as to how long that point took to play. And that marked that entire third game.
Redondo Union willed its way to a 21-19 lead, and Sea Hawk supporters could sense that something historic was in the air.
At this point I’d like to tell you exactly how this ring of destiny came full circle – how my neighborhood team, coached by a guy in pink sneakers, knocked off one of the best volleyball teams in the country.
That’s what I’d like to do – but unfortunately I’d be lying.
Employing a power offense that was as relentless as the tide, Long Beach Poly came back to win that third game 25-23 and draw within one game of the title. Having come so close and fallen just short, it was almost inevitable that Redondo would suffer a letdown to begin Game 4. They fell behind early, and it soon became obvious that their feet were no longer working quite fast enough to keep digging out the onslaught of Jackrabbit kill shots.
When it was all over, Redondo Union held their heads high and graciously congratulated their counterparts. Coach Chaffins said later, “It was disappointing to lose, but there were no tears. We left it all out on the court.”
And curiously enough, nobody in the crowd was heard to be clamoring for their $9 back.
Next Up: The SoCal High School Girl’s Team Tennis Championship