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Mountain House downs defending champ Lathrop to affirm outright WAC title
Mountain House-Lathrop boys volleyball
Lathrop outside hitter Jerico Santillan (5) has his spike challenged at the net by Mountain House’s Anirudh Sivakumar (1) and Kaamesh Saravanan (7). - photo by Wayne Thallander

Last season, Lathrop coach Toa Fa’ali’i road the talents of a senior-laded roster in an historic 31-1 run to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship and NorCal semifinals.

Mountain House-Lathrop boys volleyball
Lathrop libero Lucas Baluyut (6) makes the pass in front of Gabriel Fa’ali’i. - photo by Wayne Thallander
He knew that replicating that success this soon was unrealistic but had a hunch that a league rival may be on the brink on having that type of breakthrough.

Mountain House has proven him right, so far. On Tuesday, the Mustangs came into enemy territory and galloped away with a 25-23, 22-25, 25-11, 25-23 victory and the outright claim of their first-ever Western Athletic Conference championship.

Lathrop (12-2 WAC, 20-7 overall), which was the two-time defending champion, needed to win the regular-season finale to split the crown.

“I knew coming in this season Mountain House was going to be the team to beat, because all of their players are club players,” Fa’ali’i said. “I’m proud of my boys, I’m proud of this team. They battled, but after everything, credit goes to Mountain House. They came in locked and loaded and did a good job.

“They have 13 seniors. For us to compete against that, I’m proud of my boys.”

The difference in experience was evident at end-of-game situations. Mountain House (14-0, 28-4) trailed 22-21 and 23-21 in the first and fourth sets but made the plays to get over the hump.

“We’re definitely a comeback team when it comes to a point difference like that when the other team is a couple points ahead,” Mountain House coach Michelle Laban said. “We always push through, gather ourselves and come back strong. When they get behind, it’s usually because they’re making mistakes, so it’s just a matter of fixing it.”

Outside hitter Manil Mehta paced the Mustangs with 15 kills and four solo blocks. He clinched the back-and-forth opening set with a kill and got on a roll during the one-sided third game.

Mountain House went on a 13-point run in game 3, getting four kills — three in succession — a block from the 5-foot-11 sophomore. Setter Zyston Bright was on the service line for 12 of those points.

“Manil had a phenomenal night,” Laban said. “I’m super excited, because I still get him for two more years. His game was on fire. Every time that ball was there, he took care of it and put the ball away.”

Adithya Anjaneya Gundlapalli added 11 kills for Mountain House. Paras Marok had three aces.

Freshman Gabriel Fa’ali’i compiled 15 kills and nine digs to lead Lathrop. Setter Alexander Vere racked up 38 assists and two aces.

Mountain House-Lathrop boys volleyball
Lathrop’s Gabriel Fa’ali’i (3) rises to meet Mountain House’s Zyston Bright (8) at the net. - photo by Wayne Thallander

Among the six seniors recognized before the match were outside hitter/setter Jerico Santillan (nine kills, eight digs), middle blocker Christian Buerster (four blocks) and defensive specialist Lucas Baluyut (17 digs). Sophomores CaidenWisnieski (six kills) and Marco Palomares (eight kills, three blocks, five digs) also stood out for the Spartans.

In the end, the inability to put away teams late in sets once again doomed Lathrop. Last Friday, the Spartans lost to VOL co-champion Sierra for the first time and in five sets. Coach Fa’ali’i said it boils down to overall lack of experience. His team is now 0-2 in matches decided in five sets, and 3-3 in matches that go four.

“That’s the story of this year, is just closing out games,” Fa’ali’i said, “We come so close but have been unable to finish games. We have playoffs, so that’s something I have to work on with them in practice.”

The SJS playoffs begin next Tuesday.


Junior varsity

Mountain House 2, Lathrop 0

The Spartans (12-2, 20-7) dropped two close sets in in their final match of the season.

Justin Alvarez led them with six kills and two aces, while Jorge Reyes dished out 10 assists.

Persius Fa’ali’i chipped in four kills, and Edmund Balugo had four digs.