The Best of the West Invitational is known as the most competitive boys high school volleyball tournament in the nation. It hosted some of the best boys volleyball teams in California as well as some visitors from Hawaii this weekend in San Diego. Most teams had only played a few matches, so the depth of the tournament provided a true test to where they stand early in the season.
Eight of the top 10 teams in the CIF Southern Section preseason poll were present which provided an excellent preview to what may lie ahead. Dozens of USC, UCLA, Ohio State, Long Beach State, Harvard, Princeton, UCSB, and Loyola commits went head to head in pool play Friday and bracket play Saturday.
Past champions and perennial powerhouses Loyola and Mira Costa looked solid throughout the tournament but the team from Orange County, San Clemente, bested the field, beating both of them — Mira Costa in the semis 26-24, 14-25,20-18 and Loyola in the final in three, 25-20, 22-25, 15-13.
No. 1 San Clemente – Coach Ken Goldstone accomplished some firsts this weekend as his team beat Mira Costa and Loyola for the first time in his 13-year career at San Clemente. The Yoder cousins, senior setter Jack and senior outside hitter Lucas, both are headed to USC and anchor the Tritons offense. The Tritons are big and physical and have the ability utilize their big hitter Lucas in the front row and on the pipe in the back row on offense and have a good middle attacker in Garrett Costello. Their blocking frustrates offenses and they have several other role players who can step up and make big plays. As they continue to refine and steady out their play they will continue on a path of greatness this season.
No. 2 Mira Costa – As one of the most successful volleyball teams in the country, the Mustangs reload with talent every year. This year is no different as the Stangs have five Division I commits on the floor in setter Grant Chalmers (UCLA), middle blocker Ryan Kaseff (UCSB), outside hitter Riley Mallon (USC), opposite Scott Stephanoff (Long Beach State) and outside hitter Casey White (Harvard). Grant Chalmers has stepped into the setting position nicely and has a plethora of talent to dish the ball to. Libero Dillon Shambaugh came up with some big plays over the weekend and will be an asset if he continues that level of play. Their one loss to Best of West Champions San Clemente over the weekend in the semifinals was a hard-fought battle and could have gone either way. The Mustangs will be a frontrunner this season and their meeting with rival Loyola on April 12 will be an exciting one.
No. 3 Loyola – Loyola is one of the most consistently steady programs in the country and has a pipeline of talent coming in every year. Their ball control in passing looks great and they ran a 6-2 offense which allows UCLA commit Hagen Smith to set and hit and senior setter Chris Kennedy, a Princeton commit, to share setting duties. When the Cubs can get their quick middle attack going, they are unstoppable with senior middle blocker Ohio State commit Garrett More firing. Senior opposite lefty and UCLA commit Jackson Bantle is a threat in the front and back row offensively and dangerous behind the service line. They will continue to get better as the season goes on and iron out the kinks.
No. 4 Palos Verdes – The Sea Kings look stronger than ever this season. They are led by one of the best setters in the country in Cole Fiers a Stanford commit. He has great location and can dial into one of any of his hitters anywhere on the court. They have a great middle attack utilizing 6-7 senior middle blocker Andy Benesh (USC) and 6-6 Michael Sheppard. Senior outside hitter Brendan Hong is solid on the pin. They finished third this weekend and took down a very good Huntington Beach team. The Sea Kings have all the pieces this season and should give Mira Costa and Redondo good competition in the Bay league.
No. 5 Dana Hills – The Dolphins had a good showing this weekend, finishing third at the Best of the West. They lost to Mira Costa in the quarterfinals but beat Orange Lutheran. They have a great setter in junior Eric Matheis, who is able to feed junior 6-6 opposite Christian Hessenauer, who recently announced his commitment to UCLA. The Dolphins rely quite a bit on Hessenauer to put the ball away but are starting to develop some other offensive outlets.
No. 6 Huntington Beach – The Oilers are young and talented this year. The offense is run by Long Beach State commit senior setter Matt Butler, who has an arsenal of weapons to go to, including senior opposite Zach Gates (Long Beach State) and one of the top sophomores in the nation outside hitter TJ DeFalco. They have great chemistry, since the majority of them play club together at the HBC Volleyball Club. The Oilers are scrappy and play great defense. They lost to Palos Verdes in three this weekend but beat Redondo, 25-19, 25-19.
No. 7 Orange Lutheran – The Lancers look solid this season and have a big lineup with a lot of firepower. Their go-to hitter is UC Irvine commit Reid Dominguez, who is a great outlet offensively in the front and back row. Senior opposite Chase Dominguez, who is committed at Utah in football as a long snapper, is also a threat for the Lancers on offense. This team has the size to compete with top teams. They lost a close one to San Clemente, 29-27, 25-22.
No. 8 Redondo Beach -The Sea Hawks have a well-balanced lineup this year with junior Louis Richard and senior Nehemiah Iosia on the outside. They also have a good setter in Nick Williamson and two other players who were all league last year — Tyler Bird and Vinny Pizzuti. The Sea Hawks had a good showing, beating Hawaii Baptist, which relies on 6-6 OH Michael Fisher (UCLA) and had a close one against Loyola, losing 30-28, 25-17. No. 9 La Costa Canyon – The Mavericks look to be one of the top teams in San Diego behind the firepower of 6-5 senior outside hitter Miles Johnson (Ohio State). If Johnson can carry the majority of the offensive load this year the Mavericks should fair well in San Diego and be competitive with the top team in San Diego, Otay Ranch.
No. 10 Bellarmine – The Bells were the top team to come from Northern California and beat Westlake and Clovis to finish ninth. Senior setter Joshua Stuart does a good job moving the ball around. When senior opposite Josh Nolan catches fire offensively the team thrives off his enthusiasm.