Pilots Volleyball Set for Round Two

Ben Wiley -- SJND junior Parker Johnson attempts a serve in the Pilots first-round match against Cornerstone Christian on May 2.
Ben Wiley -- SJND junior Parker Johnson attempts a serve in the Pilots first-round match against Cornerstone Christian on May 2.

Pilots Volleyball Set for Round Two

The Saint Joseph Notre Dame (SJND) High School varsity boys' volleyball team won its first-round matchup in the Division IV North Coast Section (NCS) layoffs, defeating the visiting Cornerstone Christian Cougars of Antioch, 3-1.

The Pilots earned the three seed in the bracket after finishing the regular season with an 18-7 record. They dominated against Bay Counties League (BCL) East opposition, going 10-0, losing just five sets. On April 29, the team defeated College Prep of Oakland in the league championship game, taking home its first-ever BCL league title.

The team’s head coach Allan Nguyen highlighted the players’ chemistry off the court as a driving factor behind the team’s success on the court this season.

“Outside of volleyball, these boys are really good friends,” said Nguyen. “They hang out outside of volleyball and, with that, the chemistry on the court is pretty much seamless.”

Reflecting on standout moments from the regular-season, Nguyen brought up the team’s close, hard-fought, five-set victories at Head-Royce of Oakland and College Prep.

Given the heightened stakes of this playoff match, the bleachers were filled with more fans than other boys' volleyball matches this year. While the stands were primarily comprised of cheering SJND parents, students, and other supporters, there was a sizable support group for the 14th seeded Cougars, who also went undefeated in their league this season with a 7-0 record.

Buoyed by the energy of the home crowd, the Pilots began the game strong, scoring the first point on an ace serve by junior Dillon McVeigh (#10). Senior Christian Grunt (#12) also played well, making a couple early blocks. The Pilots’ strong serving and defense, along with overall teamwork, proved to be too much for the visitors to overcome as the hosts captured the first set, 25-12.

Cornerstone Christian tried their best to keep the score close, but occasional mistakes led to their undoing. In the second set, the Cougars fought hard to keep the score close for the first few points, but the determined Pilots once again made fewer mistakes and displayed more firepower, winning, 25-11, to go up two sets to none.

On the brink of elimination and the end of their season, the Cougars finally started to build some momentum as the third set was the first to stay close until the end. Every time the Pilots strung a run together, the Cougars — led by Elijah Castillo — answered. Ultimately, the Cougars capitalized on a few SJND mistakes to win the third set, 25-23, and prolong the game.

Both teams continued to battle in the fourth set. At the beginning, SJND looked a little rattled after dropping the previous set. However, the hosts recovered and emerged victorious, winning the set, 25-16, and the game.

While Nguyen was happy that his team won and is moving on to the next round, he expressed some disappointment over how his team got a little too comfortable and ended up losing the third set.

With the win, the team advances to the second round. On May 4, they will host league rival College Prep, looking to beat them for the fourth time this season.