Boys' volleyball falls to Churchill after five close matches
MAY 12, CHURCHILL—
After two successive playoff victories against relatively easy opponents, the boys' volleyball team entered the semifinal round of the post-season tournament against the Churchill Bulldogs prepared to fight harder than ever: unlike the two teams that Blair has previously faced, Churchill is one of two county teams seeded above the Blazers, and it had served Blair an 0-3 loss early in the season. Unfortunately for Blair, however, Churchill was just as intent on winning, and the two teams battled for over two hours and five matches before Churchill finally eked out a razor-thin victory, defeating Blair 19-25, 25-23, 20-25, 25-17 and 9-15 and ending the Blazers' bid for the county title.
The two teams were closely matched from the very first point, continuously alternating possession with few long runs for either side. Senior James Gao and junior James Lee each scored three of Blair's seven first-match kills, but Churchill scored eight kills of its own and also took advantage of Blair's slightly inconsistent block to bounce six more plays off Blair's block and down to the court. Though Blair's defense played what was perhaps its best game all season, diving for every ball and refusing to give up on even impossible-seeming plays, the Bulldogs managed to make just a few less errors than the Blazers, serving up two four-point runs to capture the first-match victory.
Stung by the initial defeat, the Blazers rallied together for the second match and quickly began proving their true abilities. After trading possession a few times with little to show for either team, senior setter Tim Yang led the Blazers on a seven-point run, serving consistently and setting up three clean kills to give Blair a 9-2 lead. Though the Blazers faltered for the next few points, missing several hits and scoring only when Churchill fumbled, Yang set up seven more kills through the course of the second game to give Blair the upper hand. Flustered by its inability to take the lead all match, Churchill made a number of hitting and serving errors as Blair continued to score, giving the Blazers the extra boost they needed to win the second match.
The Blazers carried its momentum from the second match to the third, keeping the score nearly even through the first half of the game. With neither team able to overcome the other's defenses, most of the early points were scored when the opposite team faltered or erred, and both Blair and Churchill made similar attacking errors in their zest to kill the long, drawn-out plays. With the score balanced at 6-6, however, the Bulldogs finally broke away and served up an eight-point run, slamming down two kills and bouncing three more hits off Blair's blockers. Though Blair countered with a seven-point run a few plays later, Churchill's hits proved just a touch more consistent than Blair's as the match went on, and the Blazers were forced to cede the match after a failed free ball and a missed serve gave Churchill the last two points that it needed.
With the scoreboard wiped clean for the fourth match, the Blazers returned to the court determined to win the last two sets; Churchill, by contrast, seemed a bit drained after its hard-fought third-match victory. Though the two teams remained neck-and-neck throughout the first thirteen points, Blair pulled ahead halfway through the match by capitalizing on Churchill's offensive mistakes and defensive weaknesses. The Blazers managed to kill eleven plays through the fourth match, a statistic topped only by Churchill's twelve netted or out-of-bounds attacks. Though Churchill also managed several strong kills, a few blocking errors and a twice-shanked Blair hit combined to give Blair an eight-point lead and ensure its victory.
Unfortunately for the Blazers, however, Churchill cleaned up its act by the fifth match, and it was in fact Blair that began losing points to painful errors. After a Churchill ace and three consecutive missed hits, Gao led the Blazers back into the game with two roofs and three kills, though the Blazers fumbled two more balls as well to give Churchill a narrow 6-5 lead. Churchill then went on a six-point run, and though Blair fought back with two kills and a clean roof, Churchill was able to slip two more balls past the Blazers, and the fifth game's fifteen-point score cap denied Blair the chance to fight back.
Though the loss represented the end of Blair's championship hopes this season, Coach JJ Rathnam expressed no regrets over the team's playoff standings. "At the beginning of the season," Rathnam confessed, "I didn't think we'd make it this far, but we learned from every game, changed our lineup around, and got much better." According to Rathnam, the team's performance against Churchill was one of its best all season. "I couldn't have asked for more," he said. "We served well, passed well, did everything well. I'm really proud of everybody."
Yang concurred, adding that the game was a bittersweet but satisfying ending to his high school career. "We played the best we've ever played," he noted, "and we didn't come up short or choking. Point for point, player for player, we matched up—and there's no disappointment or tears coming from me because I know that we gave it our all and played the game we needed to play and didn't hand it to them. It was a beautiful way to go out, and I'm so proud that we did it."
Kristina Yang. Kristina Yang is 1/10 of the Blair girls' volleyball team. When not on the court, she most likely to be running away from Magnet math homework, trying to pay off her three speeding/redlight tickets, or feeding her bubble tea addiction. She would also like to ... More »