Dons fall to Eagle Rock at the Barn
From the opening warmups, there was a sense of danger in the air. The Eagle Rock setters would lob balls near the net, and their outside hitters were spiking the balls into the ground so hard that you could hear them rocket off the hardwood so loud that it could be heard over the music blaring from the speakers. It was clearly a message being sent to Verdugo Hills that their game plan was simple; They were coming with power, and it would be up to the Dons to overcome it.
From the outset of the match, the Eagles' size and power presented issues that Verdugo Hills had an inability to adjust to. The Eagle Rock attack was anchored by 6 foot five, 230-pound sophomore middle blocker Tom Altankhuyag. Altankhuyag commanded the area in front of the net the way you would expect a more experienced player to do. His big presence blocking shots and finishing rallies with kills helped the Eagles jump out to a quick 6-2 lead in the opening set. Bolstered by a strong turn of serve by Elijah Garcia, the Dons pulled the set close at 7-5, but that was as close as the Dons would get in the set. The Eagles continued a barrage of power shots that sent the Dons scrambling defensively to cover the areas in between the baseline and outside hitters. The Eagles would end the first set on a 10-0 run that saw them breeze to a 25-10 first set win.
The squads traded shots back and forth in the early stages of the second set. Bolstered by a strong service game by senior setter Andres Mah-Candelaria, the Eagles raced out to a 11-3 lead and never looked back. Senior setter Cooper Ramirez had a stellar period of play attacking the Dons from the pin. Ramirez shined in the set racking up 5 kills and a block. The Dons struggled to find consistency once the set began to get away from them. Several service errors killed any chance to build momentum to claw back into the match. After a 7-2 run gave the Eagles the second set, the Dons were officially on the ropes.
The foundations of a good team begin with resiliency. Even in the face of being overmatched by an opponent, Coach Will Reinhart and his staff wanted to see how the boys would fight and turn negative experiences into learning moments and show perseverance. The Dons did just that in the third set. The team fought tooth and nail and held the advantage for most of the period of play. Led by strong play from Ethan Ortiz and Ramon Rodriguez, the Dons found success attacking the wide-open spaces in the Eagles back row. Despite the success the Dons found, they couldn’t hold off the power and precision of the Eagle Rock front line. With the set tied at 20-20, the Eagles rallied and finished the set on a 5-2 run to take the set 25-22 and the match 3-0.
“We’re not really in their weight class, but even in a mismatch, we showed spirit and improvement in set three,” said Coach Reinhart after the 3-0 loss. “They were superior in quality and athleticism and that’s okay. It's good for our guys to see the work that they have before them to get closer to the elite teams in our section.”