Lathrop has continued to set a lofty standard for a program that — like all others in the area — started just a few years ago.
On Wednesday, the Spartans confronted visiting Mountain House, their biggest challenger in the Western Athletic Conference. This one ended like all others have so far this season, as they dominated en route to a 25-11, 25-17, 25-13 sweep.
Lathrop remains perfect in the WAC at 8-0, and perfect overall at 18-0. Still not impressed? Every single one of those wins are sweeps, with the Spartans winning 50 of 50 sets played.
“We try to keep (opponents to) under 15 (points per set),” Lathrop senior Christian Green said. “That’s our goal, and with that in mind it helps us stay focused in these matches.”
These matches have lacked drama, so far. As the team approaches postseason play, first-year coach Toa Fa’ali’i has sought to test his club with stiffer competition. He has accomplished that by landing a non-league match with also-unbeaten Ripon Christian. More on that later.
Mountain House (7-1 WAC, 10-3 overall) is no slouch, entering the week ranked 25th in the Sac-Joaquin Section, according to MaxPreps. It didn’t take long for Lathrop to flex its superiority, jumping out to a 16-5 lead in the opening set. Green started the game with a kill, and Arman John ended with a scoring spike of his own.
The Mustangs were able to keep pace for half of Game 2 until Lathrop went on an 8-3 run to create separation and lead 20-14. Green then scored three kills, and the Spartans’ streak of sets won remains intact. They never trailed in the third game.
Overall, Mountain House had its moments and was able to sustain some lengthy rallies with Lathrop. The Spartans, however, were able to keep balls in play on spikes that Mountain House would put away against most opponents. They also didn’t let mistakes and lackluster play snowball, which has been their strength. Put simply, Lathrop, does not beat itself.
“What I try to tell the guys is to make sure we play our game,” Fa’ali’i said. “It all comes from them working hard in practice. We try to cover everything we can in practice, so that when we come to the game, we execute.”
Senior setter Tory Sumbler led the way with 20 assists, 10 digs and three blocks. Green doled out 14 kills. Other heavy-handed hitters such as Arman John (eight kills) and Jerico Santillan (four kills) helped key the attack. John also had 15 digs, and libero Diego Sanchez contributed 10.
Mountain House will get two more shots at the Spartans in the coming weeks. Six of the remaining seven regular-season matches for Lathrop are against opponents it has already vanquished.
Then there’s the recently-added April 12 showdown against Ripon Christian, which boasts a 15-0 record and is the top team out of the Southern Athletic League. Ripon Christian and Lathrop are the only teams from the southern half off the SJS in the top 10 of the MaxPreps SJS rankings at Nos. 7 and 10, respectively. They each won their brackets in the Stockton Classic two weekends ago.
“I know they’re also doing really well, so I had to talk to my A.D. (Chuck Selna) and set up something with Ripon Christian,” Fa’ali’i said. “They’re a team that’s going to push my team. If we are to go further in the playoffs, we’re going to have to play teams at that level.”
Green is looking forward to seeing some of his friends from RC.
“Some of my club teammates play on Ripon Christian, and we were hoping to play each other,” he said. “When we heard it wasn’t scheduled at first we were a little sad. They’ve been kind of a rival for us since my freshman year, and we wanted to break the tie that we had last year.”
The Spartans are on the march to a second straight WAC championship. They were robbed of the opportunity to build off that historic 2019 campaign because of the coronavirus pandemic. Green was a freshman on that 2019 team, which ran the table in conference play, went 27-3 overall and made it to the quarterfinal round of the SJS Division II playoffs.
Lathrop’s boys volleyball program started in 2017 when Green and the rest of his current teammates were still in middle school. When they became Spartans, they were aware of the expectations set by then-coach Heather Anderson.
“When we started out, we wanted to become that school that is respected and feared in this sport,” Green said.
Lathrop has undergone two coaching changes since that 2019 campaign. Stephanie Barrious was elevated from junior varsity coach to the varsity after Anderson was promoted to an administrative role at the school. Fa’ili’i took the reins following Barrious’ stint through two pandemic-shortened seasons. He also had his inaugural season as coach for the girls team in the fall.
Fa’ili’i never imagined himself coaching in the area after he and his wife, Arlene, uprooted the family from Alameda. Their daughter, Jahsita, starred for Lathrop’s girls volleyball team, leading it to its first-ever conference title in 2019. She was named All-WAC and Manteca Bulletin All-Area MVP during that senior campaign and signed with Montana State University Billings.
“I had no idea I was going to coach at Lathrop High School,” Coach Fa’ili’i said. He also coaches boys and girls teams for Ripon-based Rage Volleyball Club. “I just wanted to get my daughter in, let her play and that was it.
“But I’m glad that I came to Lathrop. Coach Anderson welcomed me with open arms. I felt like I was with family. Next thing I know, she brought me in and it took off. I’m excited. I know about the sport and I want to give back to the kids. Whatever is with me, I want to make sure I pass it down to the kids.”
Lathrop 2, Mountain House 0
The Spartans are serious about sustaining success, and it starts with development at the JV level.
They improved to 9-0 in the WAC and 11-1 overall after dispatching a game Mountain House team, 25-21, 25-22.
Caiden Wisnieski and Alexander Vere netted four kills apiece. Charles Reyes contributed 11 assists. Brandon Sanchez accumulated 19 digs.