The matchup suggested an epic confrontation between defending champion El Camino Real and Palisades of Pacific for the City Section boys’ volleyball Division I title. Both teams had won more than 30-games in the season, and had lost only one game between them in the playoffs. It was a repeat matchup of the 2016 final, in which El Camino Real came back from being down 2-1 to win in five sets.
On this day — Saturday, May 20 — it was Palisades’ turn to wear the crown, defeating ECR in four sets at Roybal Learning Center in downtown Los Angeles.
The contest did manage to reach the “epic” standard, albeit with a lower case “e.” It would have taken another five-setter to earn a capital letter. But the Dolphins and Conquistadors still put on a highly entertaining show full of high-flying kill shots, sensational digs and defense, and enough rallies to extend the match time past two hours.
“Just two great teams,” victorious Palisades Coach Carlos Gray said. “And it wasn’t a foregone conclusion (they would meet in the finals) because there’s too much talent. But people were pointing at the two of us.”
And there could be a third straight finals meeting between the teams next year, although other City volleyball powers like Granada Hills, Chatsworth, Sylmar, Carson and San Pedro will have something to say about it. Because the rosters of Palisades (37-5) and ECR (34-10) are dominated by juniors and sophomores, meaning both teams could be even stronger next season.
But on Saturday, more of the strength was with Palisades, who were led by sophomore outside hitter Akhil Tangutur with 17 kills, followed by junior outside hitter Scott Stuart with 14 kills, and freshman Miles Partain who had eight kills and four aces.
“Offensively they are very strong,” ECR Coach Alyssa Lee said of Palisades. “Their serving was very strong and it was hard for us to get into our system. I think later in the match we were able to run our offensive a little better. But we didn’t get to the point where we were able to quite implement all our offensive measures that we could. And they were in their system for a lot of the games.”
The difference between the teams wasn’t that significant, Gray said.
“I believe the difference was we didn’t win it last year and they did,” he said. “And we were motivated to go do it. Not to say they weren’t; that is a great team. It was just a matter of having that little chip on your shoulder.”
Palisades looked determined to pound ECR into submission early, rolling out to a 19-13 lead in the first game before settling for the opening set victory, 25-20. After that, however, each set was a grinder.
The Conquistadors — who got 10 kills and three blocks from sophomore outside hitter Brandon Botdorf, nine kills from sophomore outside hitter Matthew Nguyen, and eight kills each from sophomore middle blocker Benjamin Nguyen and senior opposite hitter Fabian Aguilar — dug in and never let the Dolphins lead Game Two by more than four points. When the set became tied at 24-all, the teams exchanged three set points points until ECR, with a 29-28 lead, forced Palisades to hit a return out of bounds.
That game took a lot out of El Camino Real. So did Game Three, which Palisades pulled out 29-27 on a Tangutur kill. And in Game Four, the Conquistadors ran out of gas toward the end, giving up the set’s final five points to fall 25-19.
“It’s very possible we’ll see each other again. We hope so,” Lee said. “They got their revenge for last year, hopefully we can get it next year.”