Valley Christian ousts Sanger boys volleyball

San Jose power ends Apaches’ 38-9 season in NorCal semifinal by roaring back from opening set defeat to eliminate CMAC champions in D-I clash

Sanger High’s Isaac Herrera (15) smashes a kill past Valley Christian High’s Tyler Alden (10) to close out the first set during the Apaches’ four-set loss to Valley Christian High in the CIF Northern California Division I semifinal match at Dean Nicholson Gym on May 16. The loss closes out Sanger’s 38-9 season that included yet another County Metro Athletic Conference championship. (Jon Earnest)
Jon Earnest
Published May 17, 2024  • 
11:00 am

SANGER – A tall, powerful team from San Jose doused Sanger High’s dream of a second straight Northern California boys volleyball championship, this time in the top shelf Division I bracket.

The Central Coast champion and No. 3 seed Valley Christian High Warriors were unfazed by an opening set defeat, taking command the rest of the night to roll past the second-seeded Apaches in front of a partisan crowd at Dean Nicholson Gym in Sanger on the night of May 16.

The 19-25, 25-22, 25-17 and 25-19 semi final triumph advanced the visitors (33-10) to the regional finals against fellow CCS section school Archbishop Mitty (30-9) — which toppled top seed Clovis High in the quarterfinals — in San Jose on Saturday, May 18. It also ended a 38-9 season for Sanger, which again dominated the County Metro Athletic Conference and earned a top seed for the Central Section D-I playoffs.

Moni Tautu, Valley Chrisitan head coach, said the trip to the regional finals is the fruition to a maturation process of her veteran team. A big part of that has been a full-time commitment to volleyball.

“On our team of 16, we only have three kids that don’t play club (ball),” she said. “That’s taken over a decade to recognize that in order to compete at the highest level, they have to be competing year-round. It’s been hard fought, and (is) a wonderful experience.”

Sanger coach Scott Okada credited the level of play from the Warriors and the Central Coast section, but praised his squad for a strong early portion of the match that had the visitors temporarily reeling.

“We received some really strong play from Seth Dillon, Micah Cole and our young outside hitter Isaac Herrera,” he said. “I am very proud of our guys. We accomplished a lot of firsts this season.”

Ultimately, it was a solid tall front wall of 6-foot-4 veterans Tyler Alden, and Greg Li along with 6-foot-5 sophomore outside hitter Elan Taylor. Alden pounded out a match-high 19 kills while Li and Taylor finished with 10 kills each.

But it was Sanger who jumped out strong, building a six-point lead in the middle stages of the opening set and keeping it there as Dillon and Cole. Dillon and Herrera made pivotal late kills with Herrera finishing off the set with a winning smash from the right wing, 

After a slow start in Set 2, the Apaches made a service run from Dillon (including two ace serves) that put them ahead  7-5. Alden and Li then picked up the intensity at the net, putting the visitors up 13-12. Sanger and VC continued swapping points until a kill by senior Trent Navo tied the score at 17.

A crosscourt kill by the Warriors’ Andy Xu broke the tie, and a long rally including three nice digs by Sanger resulted in a center court kill by Andrew Salisbury, and Valley Christian stayed ahead the rest of the set which finished with a kill by Keaton Hendry.

The Warriors jumped to an 8-3 lead in Set 3 and never led by less than four points, finishing the 25-17 win on a kill and block by Alden. The visitors finally took the wind out of Sanger’s sails with a 9-2 run in the fourth set, building a 12-4 lead to 16-6 and then fending off a minor Sanger rally.

The Warriors got another kill from Salisbury to bring it to match point at 24-17 before Sanger made one final burst of resistance. Navo, the star of the Apaches’ run to a Central Section final a week earlier, delivered a left wing kill and Dillon followed a strong Cody Coles serve by delivering a kill to cut it to five points.

But Valley Christian wrapped up the victory with a solid dig and return hit that the Apaches’ defense couldn’t cover. The Warriors kept Sanger’s blocking setup off balance with offensive attacks from a variety of spots on the court.

Okada praised the 2024 Sanger team and its accomplishments, especially from the six seniors including veteran starters Dillon, Navo, Coles and libero Eddie Gonzalez Alcazar.

“This group has taken the program to new heights, and continues to build the belief in, and respect, for our program,” he said.

Jon Earnest