The Otay Ranch Mustangs and Eastlake Titans have both thrown their weight around during the non-league portion of the season and it appears both squads look to challenge for this year's Mesa League championship.
The teams faced off league play on Wednesday, and both the Mustangs and Titans spiked their opponents 3-0 to get off to 1-0 starts. Eastlake improved to 10-3 overall after topping the host Bonita Vista Barons 28-26, 25-18, 25-16 while Otay Ranch improved to 10-2 after defeating the visiting Olympian Eagles 25-14, 25-16, 25-17.
Andrew Freiha led the Mustangs with a game-high 13 kills while teammate Jared Arias contributed seven kills, three blocks and two aces. Michael Schmidt led Olympian with seven kills while teammate Fernando Rivera had eight assists. Schmidt and Rivera each had six digs.
Otay Ranch is coming off a third-place showing in the Gold Division at the annual La Jolla Beach City tournament (March 22-23). The Mustangs finished 6-1 in the tourney, with victories against Steele Canyon, Beckman, San Francisco Lowell, Desert Vista, Coronado and Capistrano Valley. Otay Ranch dropped its lone tourney match to Valencia West Ranch, the eventual division runner-up (2-1 loss to Trabuco Hills in the championship game).
The Mustangs improved to 2-0 in league play following Friday's 3-0 sweep against visiting Hilltop. Otay Ranch won 25-9, 25-16, 25-19. Freiha led the hosts with nine kills while Adrian Ventura contributed 25 assists and Brandon Galluba had 12 digs. Mitchell Duran had eight kills and one ace in playing just two games for the Mustangs.
Freiha leads Otay Ranch with 146 kills and a .541 kill percentage. He also tops the team with 24 service aces and 17 blocked shots. Galluba leads with 87 digs, followed by Nick Gutierrez with 78, Freiha with 66 and Jared Arias with 57 — all seniors. Ventura paces the team with 314 assists.
EHS coach Alex Garibay said his team is also senior laden this season — and looking to capitalize on its experience.
"Our team goals are to raise our level to match the top teams in the county," said Garibay, who is in his second year at the helm of the varsity squad. "We've had a fairly solid start so far."
The Titans already own victories against such notable North County teams as Torrey Pines, Westview, Poway, Rancho Bernardo and Cathedral Catholic.
"This year we have a good solid group of seniors," said Garibay, a 2004 EHS grad. "It's a group that's started together as freshmen on our JV team the first year I was coaching. They've been together all through their high school career."
Garibay said he feels there is a lot of potential for this year's Titan squad. "When I was in high school, Eastlake was usually the top team in the South Bay. We've worked really hard to get back to that level to compete for league and CIF titles."
The team is paced by seniors Kai Valdivieso (outside hitter), Ivan Sinclair (middle blocker) and Harvey Alegado (setter). Valdivieso is the team's leading hitter while Sinclair has been solid in the middle, the EHS coach said.
In order to challenge for an elite place-finish, Garibay said the key to his team's success will be to "remain consistent."
"Everybody contributes and everyone needs to be solid in their play so that we don't have any weaknesses," Garibay said.
Bonita Vista put up a fight in the first game, losing by just two points, which seemed to please first-year coach Anthony Harrington.
"I think we played our best in the first set," said Harrington, a Hilltop High alumnus.
Harrington said the goal he has set for his team is to be competitive in games. The Barons' 2-8 record thus might be somewhat deceiving.
"I think we are a competitive team," Harrington said. "We can only go from here."