Dons clip Chavez at the Barn in straight sets

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Head Coach Will Reinhart of the Verdugo Hills Dons boys volleyball program had seen his team get off to a quick start to the 2022 season. With a return to a full campaign, but a rather young team lacking in experience, he knew that there was some work to do to build consistency and chemistry. The team had shown signs that the season could be one full of promise after finishing a stretch of three games in three days with back-to-back wins and improving their record to 4-1 on the year.

The stretch began with a tough test at home against the Sylmar Spartans. The Dons got out to a 1-0 lead after taking the first set. The Dons would subsequently drop the next two sets of the match as the Spartans found their rhythm. The Dons showed grit and determination by coming back and dominating the fourth set of the match, before ultimately dropping the fifth and final set; a set in which they had the lead 13-12 before the Spartans closed out the match with three straight points to give the Dons their first loss of the season. “The match was definitely disappointing,” said Reinhart after the tough loss. “We are a work in progress with clear potential and plenty of things we need to improve upon. I hope we will do a better job reducing our unforced errors in the games to come.”

The next day provided an opportunity for the Dons to move past the Sylmar match and regroup as they headed on the road to face the Canoga Park Hunters. Verdugo Hills did what you would expect one of the better programs in the city to do, as they dominated the Hunters from beginning to end. The Dons took the contest in straight sets, with Canoga Park never scoring more than 16 points in any of the three sets played. Silas Rychlik led the way for the Dons attack piling up 11 kills in the match while also contributing 3 blocks. The match represented a better all-around effort from the varsity squad as the team cut down on the unforced errors, while capitalizing on the Hunters inability to mount consistent rallies on offense.

The third and final test of the three-day stretch came in the form of an East Valley league contest against the Chavez Eagles. The Eagles have struggled in the early portion of the season. This contest was less about the outcome, as the Dons expect to win, but more about the opportunity for Coach Reinhart to build up the team’s lesser experienced players with game action as opposed to the reps you would only receive in practice situations. The Dons were all business in the beginning of the contest, taking the first two sets. Verdugo Hills systematically took apart the weaknesses in the Eagles defense, attacking the areas of the court that either Chavez didn’t have the speed to cover, or placing shots in areas of the court where Chavez demonstrated a lack of ability to communicate and adjust to how the Dons outside hitters attacked angles between defenders to score. Chavez mounted a great scoring set in the third as the Dons concentrated on getting more playing time for reserve players. After trailing for most of the third set, Verdugo Hills closed the match with a 10-4 run led by great play at the net by Rychlik and outside hitter Marquel Gardner.

It was a good end to the stretch of matches, but the work has just begun for Reinhart in constructing a team that can compete for the League title and a city championship. “We are still exploring our options and experimenting with various combinations in order to seek the best lineups we can,” said Reinhart on using in-game situations to help with finding the right chemistry with his team. “ We are working to find more opportunities for players like Ramon Rodriguez and Ethan Ortiz to get in on the offense more. Ramon is hitting .519 in the early going but he is also our best option at setter. Playing with the lineup in game situations gives us a chance to see what might be possible.”

The Dons might not have much time for tinkering and may have to go with their more experienced players when they face their next opponent at home. The Dons will play host to Eagle Rock, who will come into the contest with an 11-3-1 record on the season. The matchup will take place at the Barn on March 14th at 4pm.

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