Fri, May 27 2011 07:14 PM Posted By: Phillip Brents
The Otay Ranch Mustangs boys volleyball team explored wholly new territory by advancing to last Saturday’s (May 21) San Diego Section Division I championship game at Canyon Crest Academy. The second-seeded Mustangs made the most of their first-ever appearance in the CIF finals by defeating fourth-seeded Torrey Pines 3-1.
Otay Ranch, cheered on by three bus-loads of supporters, defeated the Falcons 27-25, 16-25, 25-18, 28-26.
“Unbelievable,” Nick Alegrado said succinctly.
No, it was believable.
Frank Herrera led the Mustangs with 16 kills while teammates Jorge Reyes had 14 kills, Nathan Allen had 13 kills and Nico Pizarro had 12 kills. Alegrado keyed the CIF champions with 51 assists while J.J. Olaogun had 27 digs. Reyes and Herrera contributed eight and six blocks, respectively.
The path to the title was remarkable.
Otay Ranch (30-7) defeated three North County teams in succession to claim its history-making mark.The Mustangs swept Mission Hills 3-0 in the quarterfinals before topping Poway in a five-game semifinal thriller.
That Otay Ranch became the first South Bay team in section history to capture the Division I championship (Southwest won the Class 3A championship in 1992) was not lost on Mustang coach Tony Fajardo.
“The Division I champions have always been from the North County until now,” he said. “We’re very proud to represent the South Bay and all the fans who were pulling for us. Once again, the fans were amazing. They energized us to a huge victory, which included a wild back-and-forth finish in Game 4, where we held on to win 28-26, and make history.”
As San Diego Section champions, the Mustangs qualified for the Southern California regional playoffs, hosting Santa Monica in Tuesday’s quarterfinal round. In an outpouring of respect, Otay Ranch was tabbed as the No. 2 seed in the region.
The story of this year’s championship journey was all about teamwork and respect.
“It means a lot to us to be the first team from Otay Ranch to win CIF,” Mustang junior outside hitter Beto Gonzalez said. “We were the underdog. No team from the South Bay had won it in Division I. Eastlake won it 12 years ago but it was in Division II. When people read the CIF record book in the future, they’ll see Otay Ranch, and they’ll wonder, ‘Who the hell is Otay Ranch?’”
Gonzalez called the Mustangs’ third-place finish at the Las Vegas Easter Tournament over spring break the team’s turning point in the season.
“We came together as a team — we bonded as a team,” Gonzalez said. “We had all the momentum the second half of the season.”
Otay Ranch’s defining moment of the season took place last Saturday.
“We wanted to do something special for our school,” said Olaogun, who received the CIF sportsmanship award. “It was unbelievable. Our team seems to play better if we think we’re the underdog. We have more heart and show fire.”
Heart and determination, Fajardo underscored.
“We had played them earlier in the season and made some adjustments based on what we felt their roster would be,” the Mustang coach said. “We put Frank Herrera opposite their middle blocker, who stands something like 6-7. Frank is 6-3. Frank is real athletic and able to move around. By the third game, Frank was scoring points against their middle.”
Fajardo said if his team had one advantage it was its versatility.
“Having Nathan Allen back in the lineup (after an extended injury) really helped us,” Fajardo said. “We now had five guys who could score at any time. Torrey Pines played great defense. We just had to keep hitting away.”
For Pizarro, a senior, the section title was a wonderful parting gift. “It’s a great experience — I’ll keep this memory forever, the rest of my life,” he said.
He’s not the only one.
© 2009 The Star-News