During the pre-match handshake between Chatsworth and Venice, the Gondoliers presented each Chancellor with a flower.
A nice gesture. And one that Chatsworth didn’t particularly embrace.
“We didn’t want to be rude,” noted junior outside hitter Tinei Suitonu “but we were here for business, not to make friends.”
The point became even clearer when Chatsworth (26-16) smashed the Gondoliers 25-9 in the first set, and went on to sweep the title match to claim the City Section Division II girls’ volleyball championship.
Even though Venice (24-15-1) played the other two games more competitively — losing 25-17 and 25-21 — in all honesty the third seed Gondoliers never recovered from that first game, and often looked bewildered and occasionally helpless in the face of the Chancellor’s relentless pursuit of their third City team title, and first since 2006.
“We could not slow them down for one second,” Venice Coach Alan Hunt said afterward. “We couldn’t serve them out of their system. We couldn’t find our rhythm. They outplayed us in every aspect of the game.”
When asked what made Chatsworth so good this year, Hunt — whose team also lost to the Chancellors in straight sets back in October — had no trouble detailing Chatsworth’s strengths.
“Their serving is fantastic and their ball control is amazing. And they’ve got dynamic hitters. Everything you need to be good,” Hunt said.
Chatsworth Coach Sina Aghassy was quite pleased his team came out Saturday with a purpose and an energy against Venice, but was also willing to let the game come to them instead of forcing the action.
“I told the girls to expect Venice to come out prepared,” Aghassy said. “And for the first 5-6 points, they did. [But] it was all about staying patient for us; we know we have great servers on our side. And with the front row players we have, at any given time we can go on a run. I felt like we stayed patient, and it paid off.”
What also paid off, Aghassy said, was the team’s willingness to put in the practice work, starting in January and through the summer, to develop its chemistry and resiliency.
“When you’ve got that [work ethic] from Day One, when girls aren’t missing practice in January, and you’ve got the talent to back it up, it’s a dangerous combo. That’s what we had this year,” the coach said.
The players also had an inkling they could be good this season. “During the summer we had so many practices that we had everything settled, and that’s the way it played out during the season,” said junior outside hitter Mahalia White.
The Chancellors were third in the highly competitive West Valley League, behind Granada Hills and El Camino Real. But that was like going to a finishing school for volleyball. Once the City Division II playoffs started, the Chancellors mowed down every team in their path. No one got even one game against them: not Los Angeles schools Robert Kennedy Community and Contreras, not Sylmar — and not Venice.
That first game on Saturday was emblematic of what Chatsworth had become as a team.
“Keeping them under a single digit felt pretty good and gave us a lot of confidence,” Suitonu said. “It felt like we could destroy anyone on the court, no matter the skill level.”
And even when the Chancellors had a rare lull, like in the third game when Venice assumed a 20-17 lead, Aghassy had no difficulty in snapping the team back into form.
“I was a little mad at our body language that third set, when it kind of seemed that 3-4 points weren’t going their way,” Aghassy said. “I called a timeout and and told them ‘hey, you’re the better team. You gotta believe it whether you’re scoring points or not.’ Fortunately that talk worked, and we played better after that.”
Suitonu led Chatsworth with 18 kills, nine digs and four service aces. White had 16 kills, and setter Kumara Bey had 26 assists and nine aces.
Bey is one of seven seniors of the 17-player roster. There are seven juniors, and three freshmen to form the core of next year’s team and, barring any move the City officials in the name of “competitive equity” could be right back in the final again.
Here’s some advice for whomever plays them: don’t bring flowers.