At the beginning of this season, there may have been a couple reasons to wonder if the San Luis Obispo High boys volleyball team would be able to hold on to its claim as something of a Central Coast dynasty.
Longtime head coach Jon Hastings had stepped down in the offseason, making way for first-year coach Manny Carter, who had played for the Tigers as recently as 2004. Additionally, integral starters like 6-foot-6 opposite Shane Kennedy and explosive outside hitter Julian Demalleville had graduated from 2009’s co-PAC 7 champion.
After finishing fourth at their own 20-team invitational in March, though, the Tigers had reason to be encouraged, and had even more confidence after a 3-2 win at Arroyo Grande on April 13.
On Thursday night, San Luis Obispo (19-2, 8-0) took a massive step toward claiming an outright PAC 7 championship by again topping the second-place Eagles (10-4, 6-2) in a 3-1 match, 26-24, 25-23, 22-25, 25-20 at home.
“This is more than I expected,” Carter said. “With this being my first year, I just wanted to put a good team out there, and they’re exceeding my expectations.”
Outside of earning shares of the league title in 2003, 2007 and last year (when the Eagles also staked a claim), San Luis Obispo had won such banners outright on all but one occasion since 2001.
The Tigers, who were just outside of the top 10 in Monday’s CIF-Southern Section Division 2 rankings, will close out their regular season by hosting Nipomo on Tuesday before visiting Paso Robles on Thursday.
“They’ve worked so hard this year, they deserve to call themselves league champions — even though we do have two more matches left to clinch it,” said Carter, who added that he believes his squad has the potential to at least reach the division quarterfinals.
Arroyo Grande, meanwhile, will finish its league slate hosting Righetti and Nipomo next week before likely opening the divisional playoffs as the league’s No. 2 seed. Before that, though, the Eagles will head to the competitive Redondo Tournament on Friday. The experience gained there, Arroyo Grande coach Laurel Allen said, should pay dividends in the postseason, which opens May 10.
San Luis Obispo’s Danual Moon had nine blocks Thursday, while teammate Sam Duval added three — two of which came late in the fourth game.
“Blocking pretty much won it for us,” Carter said. “I told my guys, ‘We’ve got the outsides; we’ve got the big hitters. If we block well, we’re going to win this match.’ And they did that.”
Nick Butier had a match-best 17 kills for the Tigers, with Chip Blaney adding 13. Keilan Meertens accounted for a match-high 42 assists for San Luis Obispo, and Jeremy Cleere had 20 digs in the win.
“It was definitely hard to see (possibly going undefeated in PAC 7 play) at the beginning of the year, just because of all the juniors we had,” Butier said. “But I don’t think we really felt that much pressure (to repeat), just because of how well we worked together as a team.
“It feels good to know all the hard work we put in has paid off.”
Sean Reed led Arroyo Grande with 10 kills, while Hairold Lopez chipped in nine. Christian Wiens distributed 32 assists, while Tanner Howard had 12 digs in defeat.
In the teams’ earlier meeting this season, San Luis Obispo won 19-25, 25-15, 23-25, 25-20, 15-10. Thursday’s rematch was similarly even early, as neither team led by more than three in the first game, which featured 10 ties. In Game 2, the Tigers used a 10-2 run to turn a 13-11 deficit into a 21-15 advantage.
Arroyo Grande bounced back in the third set, trailing only once, at 3-2. San Luis Obispo asserted itself in the fourth, however, going on a pivotal 4-0 surge midway through to go up 18-13, prompting an Eagles timeout.
“We came out with strong desire,” Allen said. “We just had more unforced errors than they did. Those took us out of those close games.”