Tue, Apr 19 2011 11:36 AM Posted By: Phillip Brents
The Otay Ranch Mustangs boys volleyball team blazed new ground last season with a trip to the San Diego Section Division I semifinal playoffs. The Mustangs appear to be treading into new territory this year after being honored with a top 50 national ranking.
Otay Ranch climbed as high as the No. 30 spot in the ESPN Fab 50 national rankings earlier this season before dropping out of the weekly poll following losses to Poway and Westview.
“It feels good to be recognized but we don’t let it distract us,” said Mustang junior Frank Herrera.
Otay Ranch improved to 2-0 in Mesa League play following last Friday’s three-game sweep of the host Eastlake Titans.
The Mustangs had to both literally and figuratively dig deep to record come-from-behind wins in both the first and the last games against a Titan team bent on scoring an upset.
Otay Ranch prevailed 29-27, 25-18, 27-25.
It’s obvious that perseverance and pride are part of the mantra of this year’s Mustang squad.
“Our team chemistry keeps us together,” said Herrera, who looms over several of his teammates at 6 feet, 3 inches tall. “We don’t fall apart under pressure.”
“It made us play harder,” said 6-foot-4 senior Nate Allen of the spirited three-game sweep over east side rival Eastlake.
Jared Arias keyed the visitors with 14 kills while Herrera had 11 kills. Nick Alegrado contributed 31 assists to go with seven digs. Geo Conrady led the Mustangs with 11 digs while Arias tacked on five digs.
Herrera paces Otay Ranch on the season with 103 kills and 21 blocks while Alegrado has amassed 92 digs and 348 assists. Nico Pizarro leads the team with 11 serving aces.
Joining Herrera, Alegrado and Allen as All-CIF returners this season is 5-foot-5 junior J.J. Olaogun.
The Mustangs are not invincible as attested by their 8-4 overall record. A season opening 3-0 win against St. Augustine was followed by a 3-1 loss to 2010 Division I runner-up Poway.
Otay Ranch recently went 4-2 in the Beach Cities tournament with victories against Sun Valley Poly, Grossmont, Steele Canyon and La Jolla before ending the regional-draw tourney with losses to Westview and Tucson Catalina.
Grossmont finished as the runner-up in last year’s Division II playoffs while La Jolla finished second to Cathedral Catholic in last year’s Division III finals.
An early season victory against Rancho Bernardo — a team Otay Ranch defeated in last year’s Division I quarterfinals to make a history-making appearance in the CIF semifinals — appears to have set the tone for this season.
Otay Ranch spiked Hilltop 3-0 to jump-start league play on March 30, winning 25-15, 25-15, 25-10.
“Our goal is to win CIF and to go on to the regional playoffs,” Allen said. “We have a lot of returners and team chemistry, and, uh, we’ve all grown a couple inches.”
“We’re experienced,” summed up Olaogun.
The Mustangs dropped a 3-1 match to Torrey Pines on Monday, giving Otay Ranch its fourth loss this season.
La Costa Canyon (9-3) is currently ranked 20th in ESPN’s Fab 50 poll, followed by No. 47 Carlsbad (11-3). Defending Division II champion Mt. Carmel and Cathedral Catholic also spent time in the Fab 50 rankings earlier this season.
Scott Willis paced Eastlake with 16 kills in last Friday’s loss to Otay Ranch while teammate Jar Garcia had 28 digs.
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