When the junior boys volleyball team is hosting a game, the varsity team is already on the court preparing for its own match. Each player has their own miniature routine to follow before each match.
Across the court is senior captain Prathik Rao, who shoots hoops almost an hour earlier than when he’s supposed to be in the gym. There’s no pattern to his attempts, but there’s a volleyball where a basketball should be at the very least.
Junior captain Jason Shen joins him a few minutes later, and indulges in his club volleyball team’s traditional warm-up. Yoga. Their routine is a result of years of practice and experience, and stands in stark contrast to the sophomores who join their captains before their upcoming game.
The sophomores seem to wander around aimlessly before the game begins, but when head coach Paul Chiu calls for the varsity team to warm-up they join their focused captains and become one unit among three different classes of MVHS students. By the time they finally take to the court at 6:45 p.m, this team has the mindset of the MVHS volleyball team that stormed the league four years ago.
MVHS boys volleyball has made it a habit to dominate opponents. They have taken to the court for 87 sets in the regular season, in both tournament play and match play, and have come off the court with only 15 dropped sets. It’s too late for their opponents to deny these athletes a chance to compete in the postseason. But this isn’t a one season surprise. This year’s team has been built around the class of 2019, and even though they might be the youngest varsity team MVHS boys volleyball has ever had, they’re still in the top of their league.
“They’ve given us a shot – with the seniors and the entire team and [the] entire program in general – ” senior Yash Hegde said.
Adarsh Pachori. Gautham Dasari. Kevin Mathew. Nikhil Bapat. Rajas Habbu. Apoorv Pachori. When they enter the gym before their game, they don’t have a set routine. They are the six sophomores on the varsity team. They can be found line-judging, working the scoring table or idling on their phones until Chiu tells them to begin warming up. Despite joining this team relatively recently, when they’re on the court they can hold their own.
“Our sophomores are also a strong part of that core. We’ve had no choice but to surround ourselves with the sophomores,” Hegde said. “They’ve been an integral part in making our team whole and basically effective this entire season.”
Dasari played for Chiu last year as well, and with top prospects like class of 2016 alumnus Alex Li gone, he’s stepped up his game the moment last year’s season ended.
“I feel that now, [the upperclassmen] have been working so hard, that when I’m playing with them it makes me want to work a lot harder,” Dasari said. “Watching Jason and Tiki like hit the floor for every single ball, I’ve also kind of developed that mindset where you shouldn’t let anything drop.”
MVHS was the number two seed heading into the postseason CCS tournament, and it seems as though these sophomores didn’t have much difficulty adapting to a varsity playbook. Some of these players will compete at a varsity level for four years, and are already seeing results from adding younger players to their roster.
Tearing the League Apart
The team is poised to finish what they couldn’t win last year. The mantra of the previous three years still holds true today: win leagues, win CCS, win NorCals. Despite losing the talented senior crop, they’ve made up for it with a work ethic bordering on obsessive according to assistant varsity coach Calvin Wong.
“This year it’s a smarter and quicker run defense, so we actually just played defense better, and then we have learned to pick and choose on how we get kills compared [to] like hitting off of people’s hands, off the block, maybe tipping it to an empty area,” Wong said. “[Basically, not] going for the big flashy play of a big hit where we had that luxury last year with [Li].”
Last year the team chose to primarily rely on skill instead of hustle. This year’s team has had to focus and create a more enthusiastic defense in its place. Despite not being able to overpower opponents anymore, they’ve become one of the most dominating teams in the league when it comes to defending the ball.
Defense is the end-game for MVHS. Some games when their defense falls through, their lack of an offense becomes glaringly apparent. But in their 3-0 victories throughout the season, the defense helps the team generates the momentum to create the rhythm to prop up their offense.
“[Rao] and [Shen] are two of the best defensive players in our league, perhaps even in CCS, that have really been the cornerstone for our team and the foundation that we have built our program upon as of right now,” Dasari said. “That defensive mindset really comes from them.”
Head coach Paul Chiu notched his 200th career victory on April 6, and was also CCS boys volleyball coach of the year thanks to the success of the MVHS boys volleyball varsity team.
“One thing that we can see on the Monta Vista boys volleyball team this year is their team chemistry. They like playing with each other,” Wong said. “They might not necessarily all hang out in the same circles at school, but they enjoy putting in the work and the time together, which shows on the court with their hustle plays.”
Originally published at ElEstoque.org