Even when their rivals appear to have them by the throat, the Santa Barbara High Dons keep coming up with Channel League championships in boys volleyball. Maybe it’s the retired jersey of Karch Kiraly — the most decorated volleyball player in history — that hangs from the rafters of J.R. Richards Gym, but the Dons go into each season as if the title is their birthright.
They went into their final regular-season match facing the prospect of having to share the crown with San Marcos and Dos Pueblos. It hung on the fifth set at the Dos Pueblos gym after the Chargers pounded Santa Barbara in the fourth, 25-13. Dos Pueblos took a 7-4 lead in the decider, eight points away from a celebration. The Dons did not want to endure it. They came back and won, 15-13.
That made it nine championships in nine years for Santa Barbara Coach Chad Arneson, a young man steeped in the school’s volleyball tradition. He was a four-year player for the Dons. His career was capped by a league Co-MVP Award and the Clarence H. Schutte Award, bestowed on the toughest senior athlete at the school. He played a lot of beach volleyball and recommends the two-man sport because he considers passing to be the most important basic skill. “We work hard on passing and defense … keeping the ball in play,” said Arneson, a graduate of Northern Arizona University. “That’s Santa Barbara volleyball.”
The California Coaches Association recognized Arneson’s success in 2012 by naming him the state’s Boys Volleyball Coach of the Year. But he regards this season as “my most satisfying year as a coach.” He explained, “We had to fight through a lot of injuries and adversity. We earned our championship.”
For three weeks late in the season, the Dons had to play without their talented outside hitter Tristan Fauntleroy. While they were trying to win, he could think of just one thing: Try not to swallow. Fauntleroy underwent a tonsillectomy in mid-April.
“I couldn’t do anything,” the 6’4” junior said. “If I played sports, and my heart rate got going, my throat would bleed. It was terrible. I didn’t get out of bed for a week.”
The team soldiered on without him. “We’ve dealt with injuries the whole season to main players,” said Joe Rafferty, one of eight seniors on the roster. “People come in and get the job done.” Arneson said, “With Tristan out, everyone stepped up. I trust every guy on our bench. We need to rely on that in the play-offs.”
On the first day Fauntleroy could play again, the Dons opened the CIF-Southern Section/Ford Division 2 play-offs against San Luis Obispo last week. They brushed aside the Tigers in a straight-sets sweep (25-9, 25-19, 25-13), but they dawdled a little after the first set. “Our guys weren’t as serious as they should have been,” Arneson said. “Once you step on the court, the killer instinct should kick in.”
Fauntleroy estimated he was at “50 percent” of his normal strength. His ordeal had taken pounds off his already slim frame. He was looking forward to solid food. “I’m actually sick of ice cream,” he said. “I’d see commercials for hamburgers, and I just wanted one so bad.”
Santa Barbara made mincemeat of another visiting team, previously unbeaten La Sierra, in the second round (25-22, 25-18, 25-15). Senior hitter Ryan Worley continued his steady play with 12 kills, a total matched by Fauntleroy. Rafferty added 10 kills. Because a remodeling project had commenced at their ancient home gym, the Dons played the match at Westmont College.
The Dons returned to Westmont Saturday night for a showdown against defending Division 2 champion, Oak Park. They prevailed in five sets, once again regaining momentum in the fifth set (25-21, 25-22, 21-25, 18-25, 15-8). Their senior class led the attack — setter Hart Pitcher connecting with hitters Ryan Worley, Channing Peake, and Rafferty — and Fauntleroy joined in the mix.
As Santa Barbara prepared for Wednesday’s semifinal against Foothill, some intriguing possibilities loomed. San Marcos swept into the semifinal on the other half of the bracket and would face either Dos Pueblos or top-seeded Esperanza. Their quarterfinal match was moved back two days because of DP’s prom night.
A missing piece on Arneson’s résumé is a CIF championship. His Dons have come close, with runner-up finishes in 2007 and 2008. This year’s team is seeded third in Division 2. They took top-seeded Esperanza down to the wire in the Karch Kiraly Tournament of Champions, hosted by Santa Barbara. “We control our own destiny,” Arneson said — as long as no more tonsils get inflamed.
OTHER TITLES: There’s no team more addicted to league championships than Santa Barbara’s boys tennis squad. The Dons completed their 13th consecutive undefeated run through the Channel League and have won 48 titles in 49 years. … Dos Pueblos won the league baseball pennant by defeating the Dons in all three of their meetings.