High School Sports

San Luis Obispo rolls in its playoff volleyball opener

San Luis Obispo High’s Keilan Meertens dives after a ball while teammate Danual Moon (7) looks on during Tuesday’s CIF-Southern Section Division 2 playoff win over Saugus.
San Luis Obispo High’s Keilan Meertens dives after a ball while teammate Danual Moon (7) looks on during Tuesday’s CIF-Southern Section Division 2 playoff win over Saugus. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

After the past couple of weeks, Manny Carter knew he might have had reasons to refocus his San Luis Obispo High boys volleyball team.

The Tigers coach had seen his squad all but clinch the PAC 7 title April 29 by sweeping a season series against runner-up Arroyo Grande, and then win its final two regular-season matches to finish its league campaign unbeaten.

San Luis Obispo, however, wanted more to represent the league well in the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 playoffs. The Tigers did so Tuesday night, claiming a 3-1 win over visiting Saugus in the opening round of the divisional postseason, 25-17, 17-25, 25-18, 25-18.

“I told these guys it was huge to win that league title and to go undefeated (against the PAC 7), but it’s a new season,” Carter said of the adjustment. “We’re going to be playing against the big boys now.”

The league title was nothing particularly new for the program, which has won at least a share of the banner all but once since 2001.

“We definitely talked about how it was going to be different (from the regular season),” senior outside hitter Chip Blaney said.

Providing even more cause to guard against any possible letdown from recent momentum, the Tigers (22-2) had moved to No. 8 in the final regular-season Division 2 rankings this past weekend after months of being voted just outside the top 10.

“We do take a look at it, to kind of see what other people think about us,” Blaney said of the rankings. “That was just a boost for us, but it doesn’t really matter where they have us.”

San Luis Obispo’s last loss came 3-1 on April 21 to Dos Pueblos (18-8), the co-champion of the Channel League.

“It feels good to be ranked in the top 10 finally,” Carter said, “but at the same time, it’s kind of hard for all these coaches (voting) to see a team like us (so far north in the Southern Section). We don’t play too many Santa Barbara (area) teams, so we’re kind of playing under the radar.”

In Game 1 Tuesday, San Luis Obispo was never seriously threatened, getting off to a 5-2 lead before using a 6-0 run to turn an 11-10 deficit into a 16-11 lead, prompting a Saugus timeout. The second set, however, featured a 5-0 run by the Centurions (10-8), an at-large bid from the Foothill League, putting the Tigers in an 18-10 hole.

“I knew it was going to be a tough match,” Carter said. “(Saugus) was no ordinary at-large team. They came out of one of the best leagues in Division 2.”

Saugus never led in Game 3, though, and San Luis Obispo jumped out to a 7-2 advantage early in the decisive set.

“It shows some character,” Carter said of bouncing back from the second-game loss. Carter pointed to the Tigers’ blocking as a key. “The guys kind of got down on themselves, but I told them, ‘Hey, we’ve just got to get refocused. We can’t dwell on those (lost) points.’ ”

Nick Butier had a team-high 11 kills for the Tigers, with Blaney and 6-foot-5 teammate Sam Duval adding 10 apiece.

“Everyone on the court did their job,” Blaney said. “That’s all we can ask for.”

Keilan Meertens distributed 39 assists, while Jeremy Cleere had 15 digs for San Luis Obispo.

With the win, the Tigers advanced to face Rio Mesa of Oxnard (17-6), the Pacific View League champion, which swept Brentwood (9-11), the third-place finisher in the Olympic League, 25-16, 25-23, 28-26 in its opener. Because Rio Mesa also hosted its first-round matchup, a coin flip today will determine the host site of the second-round encounter between the two at 7 p.m. Thursday.On March 12, the Tigers topped Rio Mesa 2-0 in a best-of-three format at their own invitational. Heading into the rematch, though, Carter said the first meeting “doesn’t mean anything.”

“They could be a totally different team,” Carter said of the Spartans, who’ve won 11 of their past 12. “We definitely are since the last time we played them.”