After 29 years of talented teams that fell short of the ultimate goal, the 2021 iteration of the Santa Barbara High boys’ volleyball team finished the job and captured the CIF-SS Division 2 Championships.
The Dons overcame a furious rally by visiting Huntington Beach, as the Oilers shook off a slow start to force a decisive fifth set. However, Santa Barbara would not be denied and rode the right arm of UCSB-bound senior Sam Meister to a 3-2 (25-21, 25-18, 29-31, 21-25, 15-9) victory.
“Those last couple of (points) I was just swinging as hard as I could. I wasn’t even looking at the block anymore. I was just ripping it,” said Meister, who finished with a team-high 28 kills. “It means a lot to me. I’m so happy it ended like this. It would have been hard to end it on a loss in the finals at home.”
Early in the match it appeared Santa Barbara would make quick work of Huntington Beach as the Dons breezed through the first two sets by capitalizing on the Oilers’ unforced errors.
But everything changed midway through the third set. Huntington Beach stopped serving into the net and cleaned up their passing, opening the door for their talented hitters Liam Phinizy and Cayman LaFontaine to find a rhythm.
A kill by Phinizy gave Huntington Beach a 17-16 lead in set three and the two teams went back and forth from there in a wild game that saw Huntington Beach narrowly avoid the sweep.
“I told their coach (Craig Pazanti) it sure is hard to win a title and it showed. We definitely had to grind it out and sweat,” said Santa Barbara coach Chad Arneson, who won his first championship in his fifth appearance in the final. “It was definitely a great performance by our boys. I’m so proud.”
Arneson was a freshman in high school who got called up to varsity the last time the Santa Barbara High boys team won the title in 1992. Their opponent that day was Huntington Beach.
The Oilers maintained their momentum from the third set and controlled the fourth set throughout, putting the pressure squarely on the Santa Barbara sideline entering the fifth and final set.
Against all odds, Santa Barbara snatched away the momentum at the outset of the fifth set jumping out to a 7-3 lead after a Huntington Beach net violation. A kill by Alex Rottman increased the lead to 11-6 and a spike by Meister off the block set up the Dons with match point.
Rottman finished just behind Meister with 27 kills. Peter Tebbe dished out 60 assists and Matt Suh led the way with 20 digs.
“I finally won a title like Todd Heil, Mark Walsh and John Gannon,” Arneson said in reference to the coaches of other successful athletic programs at Santa Barbara High. “It’s a tough thing to do and we finally did it. I have a lot of respect for those coaches and I definitely wanted to get a title for our program.”