Blazers burn Vikings in first-round playoffs


May 6, 2004, midnight | By Kristina Yang | 15 years, 3 months ago

Boys' volleyball triumphant after first playoff win in five years


MAY 6, NELSON H. KOBREN MEMORIAL GYMNASIUM—

For the last four seasons, the boys' volleyball team has been plagued with an unfortunate "post-season curse": despite consistently strong regular season records, Blair has never made it past the first round of playoffs since 1999, when the team claimed the county title. This year, however, the Blazers finally broke the curse, defeating Whitman 25-12, 15-25, 25-23 and 25-20 in four sets to capture its first playoff victory in five years.

The Blazers began the game on a strong note, as Blair's offense clearly outshone the digging capabilities of Whitman's relatively weak defense. "The middle hitting was better than usual," junior outside hitter James Lee said, "and Whitman couldn't pick anything up." Thanks to the strength of middle hitters James Gao and Bailey Zhang, Blair was able to score a clean victory even though its outside hitters were not playing at peak form and its defense was a bit slower than usual.

These two issues came to haunt the Blazers in the next match, however, as Whitman's defense adjusted to Blair's offense and began staging a counter-attack. "They started digging everything and sending free balls over, waiting for us to make mistakes, Lee explained, "and we made lots of mistakes." He added that the Vikings also improved its blocking, particularly against Blair's outside hitters: "If you hit hard, you also get blocked hard," Lee noted. "We were in position to cover, but we couldn't always get it." In sharp contrast to the Vikings' improved defense, Blair's backrow players experienced a bit of a slump during the second match, reacting slowly to the Vikings' hits and allowing a number of plays to end on Blair's side of the court largely due to under-communication.

Fortunately for the Blazers, the second match proved to be a fluke in the team's performance against the Vikings, and Blair returned to reestablish its dominance of the court in the third and fourth sets. Senior Sam Wen, junior Paul Wong and freshman Jay Chang all stepped up with excellent defensive coverage and depth, while Blair's offense also cleaned up its mistakes and adjusted to the Vikings' blockers. Once again, Blair's middle hitters contributed heavily to the team's killing power, as senior setter Tim Yang ran several quick plays that allowed Gao and Zhang to pound several hits past the Vikings' defense, sealing the Blazers' victory despite strong Whitman resistance.

The victory was especially sweet in light of Blair volleyball's tumultuous history with Whitman in the playoffs: the boys lost a bitter first-round match to the Vikings in 2002, and the girls' team was also knocked out of playoffs by Whitman in 2003. "We've had great teams every year since I started playing [in 2002]," Wong explained, "but we just kept messing up at the wrong times, so it feels really good to finally win a first round playoff game."

"We've been talking the last couple of days about getting Whitman back for 2002," Coach JJ Rathnam added, "and although it wasn't the greatest game ever, it felt good to get over the hump and finally win."

Though Rathnam is enthusiastic about the team's victory, he also cautioned that the Blazers need to maintain a high level of concentration to continue progressing through playoffs. "Everyone played carefully today, but we weren't aggressive enough," he said, explaining that the team will also need to improve its blocking and play stronger defense to ensure its chances of continued success.

Blair's next game will occur at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, May 10, when it will play host to the Einstein Titans.



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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 »

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