The matchup be-tween Sylmar and Chatsworth for the City Section Division I championship in girls’ volleyball had the makings of a classic since both teams had taken a long, arduous road to reach this final.
Both the Chancellors and Spartans had already played 40 matches this season before the final on Saturday, Nov. 11, and that doesn’t count the practices and workouts that came before the actual games. There was plenty of mileage on both teams, and we’re not just talking the bus and van rides to the various tournaments and matches away from school.
So the fans who had settled into Roybal Learning Center could expect a long, drawn out affair between two teams accustomed to playing hard every point no matter what the scoreboard said.
Instead, Chats-worth made rather quick work of Sylmar, winning the Division I title in straight sets by scores of 25-22, 25-19, and 25-15. And in doing so, the Chancellors may have branded themselves as another emerging girls’ volleyball program in a Valley that’s crowded with them.
Nothing would please Sina Aghassy more. When he became head coach in 2015, he guided the Chancellors to a Division II title that first year. (The Chancellors previously won a City Invitational title back in 2006, and the City 4A championship in 1994.) But Aghassy still had plenty of work to do to shape the program in his vision.
“When I first arrived at Chatsworth, I knew we lacked in experience,” Aghassy said. He also wanted the athletes in better volleyball condition. Plus he now had the next grouping of players who had come into the school that academic year as freshmen. They were going to be his team.
Chatsworth was still good enough last year to win 27 games and be selected for the Open Division. But the Chancellors made a quick playoff exit, losing to Eagle Rock in the first round. Those freshmen were now sophomores. And they were getting closer, in Aghassy’s mind, to his kind of team.
This season the coach upped the ante with a stronger schedule that included powerhouse tournaments at Venice High and Las Vegas as well as their own Chatsworth Invitational. The core group of Chancellors — now juniors — were streaky, losing as often as they won. But Aghassy believed the team was collectively growing stronger, even if the players didn’t always see it.
“Some of the best programs push the envelope like that,” the coach said. “When you schedule tournaments and matches, you want to get the most bang for your buck. We got our money’s worth this year.”
The final polishing would come from West Valley League play. It is arguably the City’s best league; three teams (El Camino Real, Granada Hills, and Taft) played in this year’s Open Division bracket while Chatsworth and Cleveland were placed in Division I.
The Chancellors only won three of their 10 league matches, but they were also turning a corner. Aghassy realized it when, to his secret delight, his top players like junior opposite hitter Chelsea Olmedo were now asking to see film of upcoming opponents right after they had played a match.
“With our team, it seemed like a season of ups and downs,” Aghassy said. “But toward the end of league we started to hit our stride and realize how we had to prepare.
“You could see we had the right mentality. We were eager. We went into the playoffs with a huge, new focus.”
The Chancellors were the top seed in City Division I and played like it, sweeping past Van Nuys and Venice before facing Sylmar. The Spartans (25-16-1), the second seed, also came into the postseason well prepared and tested after their busy schedule. They had only lost one set in dispatching South Gate and Cleveland.
On Saturday, however, Chatsworth methodically and definitively picked apart Sylmar’s game and attack. The Spartans held a 22-17 lead in the first set before the Chancellors ran off eight straight points to win. (Olmedo served four aces during that run.) And in second and third sets, no matter how well Sylmar played, Chatsworth played better, as the margins of victory kept growing wider.
“Our communication and our aggressiveness really helped us,” said freshman setter Delaney Vega, who repeatedly set up teammates for rally-ending kills with excellent passes. “And (the first game) that really boosted our confidence when Chelsea had that serving run. It also boosted our energy, which helped in that next set.”
Added Olmedo, who finished with eight kills and and six aces, “we played well as a team. We didn’t give up. As you could tell in the first set, we were down by a lot, but we knew we had to keep fighting to win that game.
“I was nervous in the beginning, But when you can get on a run like that it just motivates you, makes you more confident.”
Sixteen of the current 19 Chatsworth roster players can return next season. Aghassy can point them toward being more competitive in the West Valley, and maybe getting back into the Open Division bracket.
And maybe becoming a program that teams have to respect year after year.
The dream continues.