Dons fall to North Hollywood on the road

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In the aftermath of their first defeat in the East Valley against Grant last week and their second loss in a row overall, Verdugo Hills Head Coach Will Reinhart realizes that the stretch is only going to get tougher, and his team would have their fortitude tested in a major way in the games ahead. “There were too many unforced errors and simple plays not made to win, especially with first place on the line,” said Reinhart after the Grant loss. “We have potential for improvement but are short on time to realize it. We’ve got tough games on the horizon with North Hollywood and Kennedy after that. There is no rest for the weary.”

Despite it being far from the best performance by the Dons this season, there were positives to be pulled from the Grant defeat. The question would be if the team could take those positives into a tough environment and come away with a win against a North Hollywood team looking to avenge a loss at the hands of the Dons when the two teams squared off at the Barn on March 4th; a contest in which the Dons won in straight sets.

Verdugo Hills got out of the gate well in the first set, building a quick 8-4 advantage. North Hollywood would quickly bounce back showing their athleticism and power at the pin positions by putting together consecutive kills to pull the first set even at 10-10. From there the set became a nip-and-tuck affair with a period of play summed up by the Dons pulling out in front by a point or two and the Huskies scrambling to pull the set back even. The middle portion of the set was capped off by a long rally point punctuated by North Hollywood middle hitter Christopher Yang spiking one in between the Dons back line defenders to draw the match even at 16 before a Verdugo Hills timeout. The two teams continued to battle back and forth until late in the set when the Huskies were able to string together some offensive success and held a 24-21 lead. The Dons showed grit and determination and were able to fight off the set points to tie matters at 24-24. But two consecutive kills by Yang gave North Hollywood the first set of the match 27-25.

Led by stellar work from team captains Ethan Ortiz and Elijah Garcia, The Dons came out firing at the top of the second set, forcing the Huskies to take a timeout to regroup after a quick 8-2 start by the Dons. Verdugo Hills maintained their lead throughout most of the set, until a back-to-back aces by Yang, and miscommunication by the Verdugo Hills defense on a North Hollywood tap at the net that fell in between Dons defenders led to the set evening up at 19-19. Verdugo Hills would quickly regain their composure and finish the second set with a 6-3 scoring run, which was capped off by a big block in front of the net by Verdugo Hills outside hitter Marquel Gardner to give the Dons the 25-22 set win and even the match at a set apiece.

The third set of the contest was competitive from beginning to end, but the Huskies jumped out in front and led the entire way. North Hollywood senior middle blocker Lars Hart began to assert his dominance in the third set for the Huskies. His presence in front of the net at 6’3’’ made life difficult for the Verdugo Hills pin hitters in terms of finding areas to strike for points. Whenever Hart had the opportunity to score for the Huskies, his ability to elevate and attack the baseline areas of the court gave North Hollywood easy chances that they took advantage of. It was a tightly contested set, but unforced errors continue to be the undoing of the Dons of late, and this match saw more of the same unforced errors that have plagued them in recent contests. North Hollywood took the set 25-22 and were in position to win the match if they could take the next set.

The fourth set of the contest is where the wheels fell off for the Verdugo Hills boys varsity squad. In what was easily one of their least competitive sets on the season, the Huskies took full advantage of the unforced errors and sloppy play of the Dons. After a Silas Rychlik kill even things at 2-2, the Huskies went on a 9-0 scoring run and never looked back. The match was punctuated by four consecutive aces by senior outside hitter Anthony Baker to close out the contest, giving North Hollywood a resounding 25-8 fourth set, and a 3-1 win.

The Dons are officially in a slump. The loss is the team’s third in a row and the second loss in league play of the season. As a result of the contest, Verdugo Hills slips into a tie for second place with North Hollywood. Both teams now hold a 5-2 record in the East Valley, with identical numbers of sets won (17), and sets dropped(7) in league action. But all is not lost on the season for the Dons, due largely in fact to the idea that Verdugo Hills will be favored to win at least four of their last five contests in league play. While it will be tough sledding to try and win the league title, the team is still in position for a postseason run if they can pull themselves together after this recent rough stretch of play. “These past few matches are clearly our toughest stretch of our schedule. Each has been a solid opponent and we haven’t been able to answer the challenge yet,” said Reinhart on the state of the team after the tough road loss to North Hollywood. “It’s frustrating and disappointing but we only have ourselves to look at. We must be able to maximize our abilities consistently without the frequent collapses in key moments.” Said Reinhart.

As the grind of the season continues, the Dons will attempt to put the disappointment of the past few matches behind them and work to get back on track. “We will be able to practice for the first tie in a week before the next match,” said Reinhart on his plans to get the team back on the winning track. “We will try to grow a little more and find the focus to see the match through from the first point to the last. That’s sports. You keep at it until you get there, or the season ends.”

The Dons will jump back into action in non-league competition this week when the Kennedy Cougars invade the Barn. The action gets underway at 2:30 pm at Verdugo Hills High School on March 31st.

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