It’s an understatement to say that sports teams at Otay Ranch High School have been very successful since the school’s opening in 2003. All any visitor to the school’s gymnasium has to do is look on the east-facing wall: championship banners cover nearly its entire surface.
Among the sea of blue league championship banners, there are several white ones, each of which denotes a San Diego Section championship.
Two of the white banners belong to the boys volleyball team. The Mustangs could be working on another this year, which would constitute a “three-peat.”
“Everybody seems to be beating everybody in Division I, so I think it’s wide open,” ORHS coach Tony Fajardo said. “I think there’s a lot of parity in the division.”
Though the section playoffs are still a week away (first round play starts May 7 and the finals are scheduled May 18), the Mustangs took a big step toward qualifying for postseason play as this year’s Mesa League champion by turning back a determined Eastlake squad 3-1 on April 22.
Otay Ranch won the opening two games 25-22 before the Titans rallied to capture a 25-23 thriller in the third game. The Mustangs then held off a late EHS charge to win the deciding fourth game 25-19.
Senior Andrew Freiha led the victors with 24 kills, followed by classmates Jared Arias with 15 kills and Mitchell Duran with nine kills. Senior Adrian Ventura totaled 50 assists to earn the team’s player of the game award while senior Nick Gutierrez led the team with 20 digs.
Duran also had 18 digs while Freiha also had 13 digs and four aces.
The Mustangs secured their eighth consecutive league title by defeating host Mater Dei Catholic, 3-0, on Wednesday to improve to 9-0 in league play with just Friday's regular season finale remaining against visiting Bonita Vista (4:15 p.m. start). Prior to Wednesday's victory, Otay Ranch swept host Hilltop on April 24.
The key win came against arch rival Eastlake.
“We felt our chances of winning league were good after winning that game," Fajardo said. They (the Titans) have a very good team and they really want to beat us. It was the same as when we played them the first time (a 3-1 Otay win April 10 at Eastlake).”
The Mustangs improved their seasonal record to 28-4 following Wednesday victory and a 6-1 showing at the Redondo Varsity Classic the previous weekend. Otay Ranch has competed in three major tournaments so far this season, taking third place at the La Jolla Beach City Invitational held March 22-23 and returning home from San Jose with a 6-1 record and the Silver Division championship at the King of Cali tournament contested April 12-13 at Bellarmine Prep.
The Mustangs won their first six games at the Redondo tourney before dropping a Gold Division semifinal match-up 2-0(25-12, 25-16) to Palos Verdes.
Palos Verdes (28-5) then dropped a 2-0 decision to Gold Division champion Mira Costa (28-2).
Otay Ranch has advanced to the Southern California regional championship match in each of the last two years, each time settling for a runner-up finish. Will the third time be the charm?
“We played very well in San Jose except for one match,” Fajardo explained. “There were some very good teams up there.”
The Mustangs defeated Torrey Pines to win their first CIF banner in 2011 and topped Poway in last year’s division finals.
Maintaining momentum will be a key ingredient to any three-peat, according to the ORHS coach.
“We need to keep up our consistency,” Fajardo said. “We have to understand that a lot of teams want to beat us. We have a large target on our back. We have to keep it going strong.”
Four players return from the Mustangs’ previous two CIF championship teams: Arias and Freiha (both 2011 and 2012) and Duran and Ventura (2012).
Freiha leads the team with 341 kills, 58 aces and 39 blocks while Ventura is tops with 726 assists.
Digs leaders include Gutierrez (206), senior Brandon Gullaba (192), Freiha (160), Duran (152), Ventura (151) and Arias (146) ).
Otay’s four horsemen are optimistic about what fortunes may be in store for this year’s team.
“It’s a good possibility,” Ventura said when asked about the team’s chances for a CIF three-peat. “The talent is here. When we practice, we practice hard.”
“We all get along together and most of us are friends,” Freiha said. “The chemistry is definitely there.”
“Everyone steps up where they need to be,” Arias said. “We pass well. When everyone steps up, we’re a pretty tough team to beat. We’ve gotten a lot of energy (lately).”
The Titans (7-2 in league, 17-11 overall) also possess a sizable share of energy as well. Eastlake’s lone two losses in league play have come against the Mustangs.
The Titans also have recorded key non-league victories against Westview, Rancho Bernardo, Poway and Torrey Pines this season. A 3-1 loss at Carlsbad on April 26 followed a 3-0 sweep against visiting Mater Dei Catholic on April 24.
EHS coach Alex Garibay, a 2004 EHS graduate, said his team is also senior laden this season — and looking to capitalize on its experience.
The Titans close out regular season play Friday at Hilltop (4:30 p.m. start).
Otay could be facing Eastlake for a third time somewhere down the line in the upcoming playoffs. They met in last year’s quarterfinals, with the Mustangs sweeping the Titans 3-0.
“This is probably the best team they’ve had,” Arias said in regard to Eastlake’s 2013 squad. “They’ve got talent and they’re a tough team. If we play them in the playoffs, it will be another battle. It will be fun.”
Mesa League Standings
Otay Ranch 9-0, 28-4
Eastlake 7-2, 17-11
Hilltop 4-5, 13-14
Olympian 4-5, 12-16
Bonita Vista 2-6, 4-17
Mater Dei Catholic 0-8, N/A
South Bay League Standings
Montgomery 10-1, 21-5
Mar Vista 9-2, 17-10
Castle Park 7-5, 7-5
Chula Vista 6-5, 7-8
Sweetwater 4-6, 9-16
Southwest 2-9, 5-13
San Ysidro 0-10, 1-12