By Joe Naiman
Ramona High School’s boys volleyball team returned from Spring Break by defeating Orange Glen for the Bulldogs’ first league win of 2013.
During their first week back to action, the Bulldogs also lost to Del Norte and played in the Scripps Ranch Tournament, where Ramona reached the Silver Division finals.
The Bulldogs preceded Spring Break by losing a five-game match to Valley Center after winning two of the first three games, so coach Jeff Klauda felt some changes were needed.
“The strength of our league seems to be outside hitters,” Klauda said. “It’s rough for us because our setters are so small.”
Isaiah Spieker had been Ramona’s primary setter and Jake McLaughlin is normally the Bulldogs’ libero. In the April 9 match at Orange Glen, Klauda used McLaughlin as the setter for the first game. In the second game Spieker set when the rotation called for a back row alignment, while McLaughlin set in front-row situations.
Reed Hallams and Lance Stickney had been the starting middle blockers. During some practices Klauda had experimented with Stickney as an outside hitter. Klauda felt that Stickney was ready for that role for the Orange Glen match, while Levi Vermeulen had progressed to where he could be a starting middle blocker.
“Lance took some decent swings,” Klauda said. “Levi played pretty well.”
Ramona defeated the Patriots in 25-17, 25-7, and 25-12 games.
“We played pretty clean. We didn’t make very many errors at all,” Klauda said. “We had only a handful of errors the entire match and we served pretty well.”
Josh Spieker, Ramona’s other starting outside hitter, had only one hitting error in 16 swings and led the Bulldogs with 10 kills. Stickney’s debut as an outside hitter saw him take 10 swings with six kills and two hitting errors.
Although Isaiah Spieker didn’t play in the first game, he still had five serving aces and the Bulldogs scored 14 points during his serves. The team had a total of 10 aces.
“That’s rare,” Klauda said.
The win was Ramona’s first triumph in a Valley League match after two previous defeats.
“Top to bottom this is by far the toughest that Valley League has ever been,” Klauda said. “We’ve been competitive in pretty much every match we’ve played in league.”
Klauda believed Ramona played competitively April 10 when the Bulldogs hosted Del Norte but lost in four games.
“Del Norte came back and played very well. I’m not going to say we just gave it up,” Klauda said.
Ramona won the first game by a 25-20 score and led the second game by an 18-11 margin before the Nighthawks ended that game with a 25-22 victory.
“In game two we played pretty well,” Klauda said. “Down the stretch Del Norte picked up the pace.”
The Nighthawks took a 25-21 triumph in the third game.
“Game three was back and forth,” Klauda said.
A 25-19 Del Norte victory in the fourth game concluded the match.
“I would not call the hitting errors unforced at all. Del Norte blocked very well,” Klauda said. “They set up camp on our outsides and we weren’t able to put a ball away.”
After focusing on serving and serve-receive during practice April 11, Ramona spent April 12 and April 13 at the Scripps Ranch Tournament. The Bulldogs’ Friday pool play matches were at Scripps Ranch High School. Hallams missed the April 12 matches due to a college visit.
“Levi came in and played very well,” Klauda said.
Klauda added another middle blocker following the Del Norte match, calling up sophomore Trevor Johnson from the junior varsity squad.
“He’s at the point where he’s going to progress faster on varsity,” said Klauda.
Johnson made his varsity debut against Foothills Christian, who was Ramona’s first pool opponent. The Knights commenced their volleyball program in 2011, posting a record of 0-15 that year. Two of those losses were to Ramona in tournaments.
“The coach (Nathan West) has done a great job with that team,” Klauda said.
“It was a fun match,” said Klauda. “It was just neat to play those guys.”
Ramona defeated the Knights by 25-15 and 25-14 scores.
The other team in Ramona’s pool was Tesoro High School of Mission Viejo.
“They weren’t as big as some of the Southern Section teams, but skillwise they were very, very good,” Klauda said of the Titans. “We got spanked.”
Klauda noted that three of Tesoro’s players had jump serves which curved from the left to the right of Ramona’s half of the court. The Bulldog players had little experience with such serves.
“They had a hard time picking up on it and adjusting,” Klauda said.
Tesoro’s victories were by 25-14 and 25-15 margins.
“When we passed we were able to play with them,” Klauda said.
The Friday matches concluded with a cross-pool contest. Ramona’s second-place showing in its own pool resulted in a match against another pool’s second-place team, pitting Ramona against Scripps Ranch. The Falcons won that match in 25-23 and 25-19 games.
“We didn’t miss as many serves,” Klauda said. “On serve-receive we still broke down at times.”
The first-place teams spent Saturday in the Gold Division, the third-place teams went to the Silver Division, and the second-place cross-pool match sent the winner to the Gold bracket and the loser to the Silver competition. Ramona played its April 13 Silver Division matches at Mira Mesa High School.
Ramona’s first April 13 match was a 25-20, 27-29, 15-12 loss to Granite Hills.
“We missed a bunch of serves,” Klauda said. “It was awful.”
Ramona faced Hilltop in the Bulldogs’ first elimination match, which ended with 25-21 and 26-24 games in Ramona’s favor.
“We played okay,” Klauda said. “We played a decent game against Hilltop.”
A break of more than two hours preceded Ramona’s Silver Division quarterfinal match against Steele Canyon. During warmups prior to the quarterfinals, Stickney rolled his ankle when he fell on another player, making Vermeulen and Hallams the primary middle blockers.
Ramona still defeated the Cougars in 25-20 and 25-14 games.
“The guys played very loose. They were relaxed but aggressive,” Klauda said. “We didn’t miss a bunch of serves.”
The victory over Steele Canyon gave Ramona a semifinal match against Damien High School of Laverne.
“We just kept the roll going. It was awesome,” Klauda said.
The Spartans had an 8-4 lead in the first game.
“They jumped on us early,” Klauda said. “After that we just controlled the entire match. Served tough, moved the ball around.”
Ramona advanced to the finals with 25-19 and 25-16 victories.
The Silver Division championship match pitted Ramona against Bishop’s.
“We missed so many serves. We never were able to go on any kind of run,” Klauda said.
The Knights won the championship by 25-22 and 27-25 margins.
“It was awful seeing, but it was also amazing that the guys were able to keep it that close and keep it that competitive,” Klauda said.
Josh Spieker was named to the Silver Division all-tournament team.
“He had been playing so well for us,” Klauda said.
The tournament results gave Ramona an overall season record of 16-13, including the 1-3 Valley League mark. The Bulldogs travel to Del Norte for Thursday’s league match.