Photo By: Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
The Los Altos High boys volleyball team may lack experience, but the Eagles don’t have commitment issues.
Team members played a major role in the formation of the first-year program, raising funds after administrators told them there was no money in the athletic budget for the sport. And they train at 6 a.m. because the badminton and gymnastics teams occupy the gym after school.
“They didn’t like it at first, but they’re getting used to it,” coach Dave Radford said of the predawn practices. “They’re always there.”
That dedication seems to have served Los Altos well in its inaugural season. With two regular-season matches remaining, the Eagles find themselves atop the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League El Camino Division standings at 10-2.
If Los Altos wins tonight at Saratoga (5-5 league) and Friday at home against Fremont (8-3), the team is assured the division title and a berth in the Central Coast Section playoffs.
Did Radford ever imagine the upstart Eagles (10-6 overall) would be in such a position?
“I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “But after the preseason, I sat down with each player and told them where they fit in and asked them what their goals were, and they all said their goal was to win league – that’s been the mindset.”
Not even a slow start deterred Los Altos. The Eagles dropped four of their first five matches, but only one was within the division.
“The guys knew more about the league than I did,” Radford said. “They were confident that when we got into league, we’d face challenges but still be victorious in most of our matches.”
Both of Los Altos’ league losses went five games. The Eagles avenged the loss to Cupertino – sweeping the Pioneers last week – and hope to pay back Fremont Friday in a match that may decide the league champ.
“It’s going to come down to will and who makes more smart plays and the least amount of mistakes,” Radford said.
The coach tries to reduce his team’s mistakes by stressing volleyball IQ and noted that his players are getting smarter by the match.
“They’ve gone from elementary kids to seniors in college as far as learning the game,” Radford said.
Perhaps no player has improved more than senior middle blocker Ian McColl.
“He’s woken up the last five or six matches,” Radford said prior to last week’s home win over Cupertino, in which the 6-foot-4 McColl notched 13 kills. “He’s seeing everything in front of him.”
Radford praised assistant coach David Moore for his work with McColl and fellow senior Spencer Simonides, a 6-8 middle blocker who’s also playing tennis for Los Altos this spring.
The Eagles are not only imposing in the middle but can do damage on the outside as well. Opposite hitter Alex Blackburn, a senior, tops the team in kills and outside hitter David Stien is second. Stien, a freshman, recorded a team-high 15 kills against Cupertino April 24. “He’s done great,” Radford said.
Another ninth-grader, setter Nathan Smith, has surpassed 500 assists.
“He’s running the offense with flying colors,” Radford said. “I couldn’t have asked for more from a freshman – or a senior.”
Three seniors not previously mentioned have contributed to the cause as well – outside hitter John Dai and defensive stalwarts Mathias McAfee and Paul Bergevin. The coach said Dai has racked up 74 kills (despite missing four weeks with an injury), libero McAfee “has become our defensive guru” (team-best 241 digs) and Bergevin has “lit up the back row” in limited action.
In honor of Senior Night, Los Altos created a theme for Friday’s finale against Fremont (6:45 p.m. start). Titled “Stash Bash,” the players are trying to grow mustaches for the occasion and may hand out paper ones to fans, according to Radford, who said his facial hair will be “in full bloom.”
For more photos of the Los Altos High School boys volleyball team, click here.