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Esperanza Gives Royal a Beating to Take Title


NORWALK — When it comes to nose thumbing, Esperanza has turned the gesture into an art form.

Here's what the Aztecs thought about Simi Valley Royal being awarded the top-seeded position in the Southern Section Division II boys' volleyball playoffs:


It was that easy. Although there was no posturing by Esperanza, the second-seeded Aztecs gave Royal a 16-14, 15-10, 15-12 thrashing in the championship match Saturday at Cerritos College.

"They were top-seeded," said Paul Nihipali, who led the Aztecs with a match-high 31 kills. "But we knew we were better. We knew we could beat them."

As Esperanza had done earlier in the season at a tournament. But that was a long time ago--and the teams had played only one game. Both teams have improved since then, but how did the Aztecs get that much better?

"We worked on our passing game and our siding out," Nihipali said.

Esperanza's siding out was especially detrimental to Royal. Every time the Highlanders made any kind of scoring run, Esperanza would thwart it with a key sideout.

Royal refused to succumb in the third game and stayed the course until the final spike. But a Royal revival--the Aztecs let an 11-6 lead dissolve and the Highlanders pulled to 13-12--was cut short when Esperanza continued to sideout.

As it had throughout the day, Esperanza had an answer. The Aztecs forced Jason Hughes, Royal's strapping 6-foot-7 outside hitter, to spike a ball long and Esperanza went ahead, 14-12. On the first match point, with Mike Allison serving, Brad Goldston ended play with a kill through Royal's block.

The kill signified more than Esperanza's first section title. It also washed away a year of brow beating.

In last year's finale, Esperanza lost the championship to Royal in five games.

"It was definitely on our minds," said setter Chris Pitzak, who had 41 assists. "I would have cried if we lost two in a row."

Said Nihipali: "We were looking for a little bit of payback for last year. This was a great ending to our senior year."

"Our" is the trio of Nihipali, who is going to UCLA, and Pitzak and Goldston, who will attend BYU.

"We didn't just want to win league, we wanted to go all the way," Nihipali said.

Esperanza didn't waste time in attending to the task. In the first game, the Aztecs went ahead, 7-0, and, 10-4, before Royal tied the score, 12-12, and then, 14-14.

But Esperanza benefited from a Royal net violation and Nihipali closed it out on a kill off a back set.

"It was important psychologically," Esperanza Coach Kurt Kersten said of the first-game victory.

The scoreboard wasn't a true testament to Esperanza's dominance, as Royal (20-1), the No. 1 representative of the Marmonte League, led only once during the match. In the second game, the Highlanders went ahead, 1-0.

In all three games, Esperanza jumped to big leads, but allowed Royal to inch back every time.

"Mentally, we were a little inconsistent, but we played pretty well," Pitzak said.

Well enough for a good nose thumb.

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