A sluggish start put the Santa Barbara High boy’s volleyball team on the brink of elimination in a CIF-SS Division 1 match against visiting Tesoro.
After dropping the first two sets and trailing 13-8 in set three, the prospect of a Santa Barbara victory was a pipedream, easily overshadowed by the likelihood of tarnishing a break through season by being swept out of the playoffs in the first round.
“I’m an emotional guy and during that third set being down four or five and facing going out, I was like this is not how I want my senior year to end, at home, first round and my guys picked me up,” said Stanford-bound outside hitter Will Rottman. “That was such a unique match though, to be down 2-0 is one thing and then to be down five in those third and fourth sets and comeback is so big.”
Once the momentum shifted, the Dons would not be denied and pulled out a 20-25, 22-25, 25-22, 25-22, 15-10 win on Tuesday night at J.R. Richards Gymnasium.
Tesoro was well prepared for Santa Barbara’s Rottman-led attack and frustrated him early on by getting hands to his to nearly every ball he hit. The Titans used that strong defense to close set one on a 4-0 run, after Santa Barbara cut its deficit to 21-20, capped of by a monstrous team block that clinched the set.
The Dons led for the majority of set two and took a 22-20 lead on a Rottman kill. However, Tesoro closed the set on a 5-0 run capped off by a kill from Long Beach State-bound Nathan Harlan.
“We could have lost in three straight. You never know,” said Santa Barbara coach Chad Arneson. “That team is a really good team and they have some good hitters. Collectively we did better at the end.”
The match turned in set three as the Dons were down 13-8 and 14-10 before putting together a 6-2 run to even the set at 16-16. The Santa Barbara blocked emerged seemingly out of nowhere late in the set. Sam Meister and Kylan O’Connor combined for a block to clinch the set.
In set four, a Harlan kill increased the Tesoro lead to 11-7, but Santa Barbara again worked its way back and Rottman completed the comeback with a cross-court spike to clinch the set.
Rottman finished with match-high 34 kills despite am impressive defensive performance by Tesoro.
“Whether you live in Santa Barbara or you live in South Orange County you hear about how well the left side from Santa Barbara plays,” said Tesoro coach Patrick Eaton. “We knew he was going to be bringing it tonight and I think we did a pretty good job slowing him down, but you can only keep a player like that down for so long.”
The Dons jumped out to a 4-0 lead in set five on a combined block by Henry Haber and O’Connor. Haber finished with 52 assists as Santa Barbara’s setter to go along with five blocks.
Tesoro battled back and evened the set at 7-7 on a Santa Barbara net violation. But the Don’s went on to clinch the fifth set and the match on a Rottman spike.
In addition to Rottman’s heroics, Santa Barbara received excellent contributions offensively from Riley Roach and Sam Meister, who finished with 12 and eleven kills respectively.
Matt Suh led Santa Barbara defensively with 13 digs. Caden Westwick also chipped in two ace serves and seven digs off the bench on his birthday.
Santa Barbara (20-6 overall) will matchup against either Corono Del Mar or Newbury Park in the quarterfinals on Saturday.