By Zach Cavanagh
The bar for success over the previous 22 seasons of the Ken Goldstone era in the San Clemente boys volleyball program was its record in the South Coast League. Goldstone’s Tritons never finished lower than second in the league in his tenure.
With Goldstone now retired after a stellar career and former assistant J Bisch now at the reins of the San Clemente program, the first step toward reaching that minimum for success began Tuesday night, March 16, at San Clemente High School.
San Clemente dropped the first set and struggled in the second set with service errors against Aliso Niguel, but the Tritons cleared their heads and found their groove to come back and win in four sets, 25-27, 25-22, 25-17, 25-21, in both teams’ South Coast League opener.
“Good for the first league win, but at the same time, we have another 10 gears we can get to,” Bisch said. “Our goal for this is to refine what we’ve been doing in the nonleague schedule, but we can be a lot better than we were tonight.”
San Clemente (4-7, 1-0) took on an incredibly tough nonleague schedule to prepare for another battle through the South Coast League, and the Tritons also took their lumps.
San Clemente didn’t pick up the wins it wanted and didn’t even pick up a set in top-10 Division 1 clashes with No. 3 Beckman, No. 4 Corona del Mar, No. 6 Mira Costa and No. 8 Huntington Beach, but Bisch sees those matches as necessary experiences for his group to succeed.
“For us, the biggest thing is going to be confidence,” Bisch said. “Whenever you play teams that are ranked top 10, you’re going to have an issue with ‘Oh, we’re not winning. How good of a team are we?’ We were able to see we play with all of those teams. So, our goal is to learn how to be a team that can be a solid three-set team where we’re not making those early mistakes. We don’t need a bad first set to wake us up.”
Against Aliso Niguel on Tuesday, San Clemente, ranked No. 20 in the combined CIF-SS Division 1/2 poll, still needed that first-set wake-up call. The Tritons saw the opening set tied at 21, 22, 23, 24 and 25, fighting off two set points before the Wolverines took the opener with a block, 27-25.
The slow start continued into the second set, during which early San Clemente leads of two and three points evaporated to consistent four-point deficits. The Tritons trailed by as many as five points, and with a 20-15 Aliso Niguel lead, San Clemente found its stride.
San Clemente was powered by several kills from senior Luke Shanafelt on a 10-2 run to close the set, 25-22, and tie the match, 1-1.
“Our goal was just to put the pressure on them,” Bisch said. “We felt like as long as we’re doing our job and making their life harder, it’s going to be our match. When we pull back and allow teams to dictate how we play, it’s an issue for us and we’re playing catch-up.”
The Tritons upped that pressure in the third set with an early 6-2 lead, a 10-4 lead and eventually a 20-11 lead to distance themselves from the Wolverines. Aliso Niguel cut the deficit to five points, 20-15, but the Tritons closed with a 5-2 run helped by strong play by senior setter Landon Seymour.
“We dialed in our passing toward the end,” San Clemente junior outside/middle Luke Ingersoll said. “A lot of our play was about emotion and energy, so once we had consistency and energy going, we started doing well.”
San Clemente rolled into the fourth set as well and held a five-point lead early in the set. Aliso Niguel brought the margin down to three, but the Tritons pushed back out to lead by as many as seven points, helped by errors from the Wolverines.
Aliso Niguel didn’t go away quietly and fought back within two points twice late, but Ingersoll took control on the final points to finish off a 25-21 set win and the match victory.
The Tritons all acknowledged they still have plenty to work on, but they’ll have plenty of practice time to smooth their edges.
San Clemente is next on the court at Dana Hills (0-3) on Tuesday, March 22, and then takes on last year’s second-place finisher, Tesoro (3-2), currently ranked No. 14, on the road on Thursday, March 24.
Zach Cavanagh is the sports editor for Picket Fence Media. Zach is multiple California Journalism Award winner and has covered sports in Orange County since 2013. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ZachCav and follow our sports coverage on Twitter @SouthOCSports. Email at email@example.com.