V for Victory: The first time is always the sweetest

The 2024 Victory Christian Academy boys volleyball team made history by capturing the Chula Vista school's first banner in the sport following Thursday's sweep of top-seeded Escondido Adventist Academy. Photo by Phillip Brents

The first year is closing on the San Diego Section’s new Division V-AA tier.

By all accounts, it has been well received … and has already started paying dividends.

“It’s been a great addition,” San Diego Section Commissioner Joe Heinz said. “We have teams that have never participated in the CIF playoffs or teams that have never played for a CIF championship. It creates more opportunities for the smaller schools. We’re very happy for everybody.”

Chula Vista’s Victory Christian Academy became the division’s latest beneficiary after recording a 3-0 sweep of top-seeded Escondido Adventist Academy Thursday night at Southwestern College. The second-seeded Knights won by scores of 25-21, 25-14, 25-23 to improve to 18-15 on the season.

Victory Christian was cheered on by a vocal local contingent as the small private school is located just down the street from the college.

Victory Christian Academy coaches Yael, right, and Jesse Pina display the CIF championship trophy. Photo by Phillip Brents
Sportsmanship award winners included Brad Chier of Victory Christian Academy, left. Photo by Phillip Brents

The Knights led from start to finish in the second set but had to rally in each of the first and third sets. The teams were tied 16-16 in the stretch run of the third set as the Hawks (12-12) attempted to extend the game.

“We had a lot of practice in these types of games,” VCA head coach Jesse Pina said. “We tend to drop the third set and that wakes us up. We wanted to see if we could win that third set for a change. We’re proud of this achievement.”

The season ends for both the Knights and Hawks as the section’s Division V and Division V-AA champions do not as yet qualify for the state regional playoffs.

But the first CIF boys volleyball championship is quite commanding.

“It feels great,” gushed junior co-captain Brad Chier, who keyed the history-making win with 24 kills and three aces to go with nine digs. “I’m very, very excited about this championship and what we’re building here. I’ve watched this group from not knowing much about volleyball to being CIF champions. I’m really proud of them.”

The Knights trailed by three points late in the third set before taking a 20-17 lead. The Hawks narrowed the score to 24-23 before Chier & Co. pulled out the harrowing victory.

“We just had to focus and get together,” senior co-captain Lucas Brandini acknowledged about the team’s resiliency not to cave in at inopportune moments. “Everyone makes mistakes. We just had to stay together as a team and commit ourselves.”

“We have a lot of kids who didn’t play volleyball,” chimed in sophomore Isaiah Owens, a member of the school’s CIF semifinalist boys basketball team. “We put in a lot of hard work obviously to grow these players.”

“It’s my last season here,” said Brandini, who was next up with six kills, one ace and 10 digs. “I’ve tried my hardest to get here. We’ve tried hard practicing.”

“It’s fun, it’s exciting,” beamed the power-hitting Chier, the Patriot League’s Player of the Year, who leads the nation with 145 aces.

V is for Victory. Photos by Phillip Brents

Yael Pina shares coaching duties with his brother. He’s witnessed the team’s transformation into champions first-hand.

“Being my first season coaching here and having a lot of young athletes who had never played this level of volleyball, it’s been a long road,” he said. “But they’ve been great learners. We have some great leaders, Brad and Lucas, our only senior. We’re a really small school with sub-170 students. It’s a great group of guys, resilient workers.”

The Knights posted a runner-up finish at 8-2 in league to High Tech Mesa. VCA’s local league foes included Bayfront Charter (6-4 in league) and High Tech High Chula Vista (1-7 in league)

Escondido Adventist entered the final as a league champion and promptly took a 3-1 lead in the opening set. VCA rallied to take leads of 7-5, 8-6 and 10-7 before pushing its advantage to 13-8. However, Escondido Adventist counted quickly with a 6-0 run to take a 14-13 lead. The Hawks upped their advantage to 18-15 before the Knights fought back to tie at 19-all.

The VCA lead ballooned to 24-19 before finally closing out the opening victory at 25-21.

The Knights wasted no time in scooting out to an early 3-0 lead in the second set. The Hawks later tied the proceedings at 7-7 and 11-11, but Victory Christian had an answer each time. The Knights zipped in front 20-11 to take command and extended their lead to 23-14 on an ace by Chier, who closed out the set with another ace.

The third set was filled with lead changes and tied eight times.

Victory Christian’s Esteban Torres sets the ball. Photo by Phillip Brents
Air Chier. Photo by Phillip Brents
Gabriel Aguirre serves the ball. Photo by Phillip Brents
Michael Huerta digs. Photo by Phillip Brents

Sophomore libero Stanmore “Newby” Langford keyed the team with 12 digs while junior Esteban Torres had six digs and 33 assists. Sophomore Austin Dill had two blocks while sophomore Gabriel Aguirre had four digs and two aces

All seven boys volleyball divisions (Open through Division V-AA) are being held at Southwestern College this season, the second consecutive year for boys volleyball.

Thursday’s nightcap featured top-seed Lincoln and second-seeded Point Loma. The Hornets (20-15) won the match-up of City League rivals 3-1 on scores of 25-12, 22-25, 26-24, 25-23.

The last three sets were closely fought as the Pointers (6-4 in league, 19-20 overall) nearly crested the hill.

Friday’s double-header features second-seeded High Tech High San Diego (15-7) and fourth-seeded Coronado (24-10) in the Division III final at 5 p.m. and fourth-seeded Santa Fe Christian (20-10) and sixth-seeded La Costa Canyon (15-19) in the Division I title tilt at 7:30 p.m.

Saturday’s triple-header lineup includes top-seeded Foothills Christian (25-5) and third-seeded Cambridge School (21-7) at 11 a.m., followed by third-seeded Mission Vista (32-6) and fourth-seeded Canyon Crest Academy (22-15) in the Division II final at 1:30 p.m. and top-seeded Torrey Pines (29-3) and second-seeded Cathedral Catholic (22-6) in the Open Division final at 4 p.m.

Regional qualifiers include the Open Division’s top five teams as well as the Division I, Division II, Division III and Division IV champions. Playoff dates are May 14 and May 16. Championships are scheduled May 18.

Victory Christian Academy captains Lucas Brandini, left, and Brad Chier. Photo by Phillip Brents

Net worth
Four Metro Conference teams had their seasons stall in this week’s division semifinals.

Second-seeded Otay Ranch (25-14) lost to LCC in Wednesday’s Division I round by scores of 25-21, 21-25, 18-25, 15-25. The Mustangs defeated seventh-seeded Bishop’s 25-22, 25-23, 29-27 in Saturday’s quarterfinals.

Second-seeded Bonita Vista (30-7) lost to Mission Vista, 13-25, 22-25, 20-25, in Wednesday’s Division II round. The Barons swept seventh-seeded San Dieguito Academy 25-21, 25-16, 26-24 in last Friday’s quarterfinals.

Top-seeded Olympian (21-10) lost to Coronado, 25-23, 15-25, 17-25, 25-21, 7-15 in Tuesday’s Division III round. The Eagles topped eighth-seeded Mar Vista 3-2 in last Friday’s quarterfinals.

Third-seeded San Ysidro (19-10) lost to Pont Loma, 25-18, 25-19, 24-21, in Tuesday’s Division IV round. The Cougars swept sixth-seeded Central Union, 27-25, 25-21, 25-23, in a hotly contested quarterfinal last Friday.

Bonita Vista last appeared in a CIF championship game in 1992 (3A Division runner-up), 1996 (Division I runner-up), 2014 (Division III runner-up) and 2016 (Division II runner-up).

The Barons claimed this year’s Metro-Mesa League with a perfect 8-0 record ahead of co-runners-up Eastlake (29-13) and Otay Ranch (25-14).

BVHS coach Luis Contreras attributed his team’s rise up the league and divisional standings to “better structure, more culture, high expectation and opportunity and having a novice team.”

“We’ve never had a novice team before,” Contreras said.

Senior leadership has also been a factor with 11 of the 16 rostered players being 12th-graders.

Key players have been senior outside hitter Daniel Robitaille and senior libero Noah Kircher. Sophomore middle blocker D.J. Ayres led the younger players on the team.

Robitaille, Kircher and Ayres were all first-team all-league selections while senior opposite hitter Hector Silva and junior outside hitter Luke Janssen both earned second-team all-league recognition.

Bonita Vista’s Luke Janssen goes to the net. Photo by Phillip Brents
The Barons found success this season under the guidance of coach Luis Contreras. Photo by Phillip Brents

Contreras said tough defense, spreading the ball around and trying to strong dominance on service/receive had been hallmarks of the team’s early-round playoff success. However, the host team made too many costly mistakes in Wednesday’s semifinal against a powerful-hitting Mission Vista team.

The Barons had defeated the Timberwolves 2-1 in a best-of-three tournament game earlier in the season but could not repeat that success in the teams’ playoff match-up.

Mission Vista snapped an early 4-4 deadlock en route to claiming a 25-13 win in the opening set while erasing a 9-7 BV lead.

The second set was much closer and harder-fought with either team managing to hold only a three-point lead at any juncture. The Barons went up 2-0, went down 5-3, tied the match 8-8, fell behind 10-9, tied it at 10-10 and 11-11, went down 12-11, tied it at 21 before closing to 22-21 and 23-22 very late.

The third set started off with a 9-0 Mission Vista lead, with all points served by junior E.J. Catapang, that eventually reached 10 points at 14-4 before the hosts finally found some rhythm to get their fans roaring in approval.

Bonita Vista narrowed the score to 16-13 though still trailing. After a Timberwolves spurt that landed them a 22-14 lead, things started to get really interesting when the Barons closed to within 24-20. But the hosts could not maintain the momentum and eventually coughed up match point.

Senior Charlie Koleszar keyed the visitors with 10 kills while senior Brody Hagenah and junior Robby Hege each tallied eight kills. Hege also contributed five blocks

Junior Kody Krohn had 30 assists while Catapang recorded three aces and six digs.

“We could have had a little better execution,” Contreras said in summing up the disappointing setback to end the season.

The action was at the net all night long in Wednesday’s Division II semifinal. Photos by Phillip Brents