By Joe Naiman
Ramona High School’s boys volleyball team opened its 2014 season March 7 at La Jolla, the defending CIF Division III champion and a participant in the CIF championship match for each of the past seven years.
“The guys came out very focused,” said RHS coach Jeff Klauda. “They were in the right positions. They were making the right decisions.”
The Bulldogs lacked the experience that would have allowed them to make some of the key plays the Vikings made in their three-game win over Ramona.
“We were right there in both the first and third games,” Klauda said.
In addition to varsity, La Jolla also has a junior varsity squad and a freshman team. The Bulldogs have only a JV team. Ten Ramona boys are on the Bulldogs’ varsity. Eleven started the season on junior varsity, including fewer than five with previous high school volleyball experience.
“My JV team is basically my freshman team,” Klauda said.
Last year’s Ramona varsity included four seniors, two of whom were starters. Both of those starters were outside hitters, so this year senior Cody Kealy moves from right side hitter while junior Davis Windes becomes a starter. Senior Lance Stickney returns as a starting middle blocker and senior Jake McLaughlin is back as Ramona’s libero.
Ramona’s other returning starter is junior setter Isaiah Spieker. Senior Levi Vermeulen, a reserve middle blocker last year, is now the starting right side hitter. Trevor Johnson, a junior who was a mid-season call-up from the 2013 JV squad, is Ramona’s other starting middle blocker.
Three reserves with no previous varsity experience round out Klauda’s squad. Juniors Taylor Holas and Mason Pierce, both of whom spent all of 2013 on junior varsity, are defensive specialists. Armando Abarca, the first freshman on Ramona’s varsity since Garrett Adelman in 2009, is a right side hitter and offensive hitter. Abarca’s previous volleyball experience was as a manager for the girls’ junior varsity team in 2013.
“He’s got a lot of talent. He takes up things pretty quick; he’s smart,” Klauda said.
Connie Halfaker returns as Klauda’s varsity assistant. Kyle Adelman will be the junior varsity coach and will help with the varsity.
“We’ve got a pretty nice staff again this year,” said Klauda.
The Feb. 22 tryouts were followed by practices Feb. 24-27, a Feb. 28 scrimmage, practices March 3-6, and the March 7 match.
“At this point in the season I would expect La Jolla to probably be better than we are,” Klauda said.
“We’re also trying a different offensive system,” he added. “It’s gong to take a lot to learn it, to get it down to where it’s second nature.”
This is the first season that boys volleyball playoff divisions will be based on competitive balance rather than school enrollment. La Jolla and Ramona, whose 2013 season ended with a loss in the CIF Division II quarterfinals, are both in Division I this year.
Ramona led for most of the first game at La Jolla, including game point with a 24-22 advantage. The Vikings tied the game before eventually prevailing by a 29-27 margin.
“We serve-received very well the first game and we only had a few hitting errors the first game. Played a pretty clean game,” Klauda said.
The score in the second game was 25-16.
“We really struggled with serve-receive,” Klauda said.
Ramona also had game point in the third game after overcoming a La Jolla lead.
“Had a bit of a slow start but kind of stayed even with them for a while and then they had a little run,” said Klauda.
The Bulldogs had game point twice, at 24-23 and 25-24, before the Vikings ended the game on the favorable end of the 28-26 score.
“They just find a way to pull these things out,” Klauda said.
“The guys played pretty darn well,” Klauda said of his team. “From a standpoint of making progress it was a good start to the year.”
Klauda noted that missed serves were one of Ramona’s most noticeable weaknesses.
“We’ve got a week to work on it,” he said.
Ramona’s next match will be March 19 at Westview. The Bulldogs’ home opener will take place March 25 against Mt. Carmel.