First-year Lathrop head coach Stephanie Gleaves thought she and the Spartans may be in for long night, or perhaps a short one, after visiting East Union’s opening salvo on Wednesday.
“They looked really good,” Gleaves said. “I was nervous in that first set.”
Her mind was put at ease after Lathrop responded to the Lancers’ early show of dominance and put away its best early-season win in three, 26-24, 25-16, 25-17.
East Union (4-2) shot out to a 7-2 lead, getting back-to-back aces from Parm Khattra while towering middle blocker Flavio Mercado — he was named Most Outstanding Player in the Valley Oak League last year — made his presence felt at the net.
It turned out to be a good exercise for the youthful Spartans (9-2), who are defending their outright title in the Western Athletic Conference. East Union is a reigning co-champ in the VOL.
“When we’re struggling, we work on overcoming and flipping the script and my boys have been getting better at that,” Gleaves said. “We talk about it in practice, turning that negative into a positive. I think it showed in that first set.”
East Union was ahead for much of Game 1 until Ysrael Gutierrez blocked Cameron Torres to tie it at 18-18. The Lancers quickly recaptured the lead and had game point in hand at 24-23 after Lathrop was whistled for a net violation.
The Spartans then scored three unanswered points to steal the win, getting a go-ahead ace from Jerico Santilan. Arman John (four kills) got off a spike that East Union failed to return on the final point.
“They weren’t themselves tonight,” East Union coach Chelsea Herrera said. “They came out OK, but Lathrop took care of every opportunity. They were able to capitalize on everything and our boys weren’t ready for it.”
It was all Spartans from there. Two five-point scoring runs helped give them separation in the second set, giving them leads of 12-6 and 22-10. Sophomore Christian Green iced it for Lathrop with one of his team-high seven kills.
It was much of the same in the third set, when Gutierrez capped an early 5-0 run with an ace to give his club a 9-5 advantage. The Spartans then scored six unanswered to set up match point at 24-14, and after some resistance from East Union they finally locked it up with a net violation.
The key to the Spartans’ improved play was a lineup change that allowed their best middle, Gutierrez (nine blocks) to match up with Mercado (eight kills, 11 blocks).
“When we were able to slow him down they resorted to tipping,” Gleaves said. “Our boys were able to adjust, and communication was big.”
Alec Alegre paced East Union with nine kills and seven blocks. Jonathan Castenada chipped in six kills and two blocks.
Returning junior setter Rael Caremsis helped lead Lathrop with 15 assists and 12 digs, while sophomore libero Diego Sanchez-Castañeda collected 20 digs. The Spartans have been able to carry over their success from last season despite losing their two top hitters, Gabe Gutierrez and Tyler Riggleman, to graduation. Players moving up from the WAC champion junior varsity team have stepped up in their place.
“Our JV team did a lot for our program in the last year, and they were able to come up and compete at the varsity level right away,” said Caremsis, a third-year varsity player. “Each day we work hard in practice and it has been a team effort.”
Weston Ranch 3, Edison 1
STOCKTON — Weston Ranch improved to 7-0 with its 25-18, 25-17, 15-25, 25-16 non-league win.
Maikhel Bayot racked up 29 assists and 10 digs. Ramanjit Singh crushed 16 kills, and Francisco Vega added six kills, five blocks and three aces.
Lathrop 2, East Union 1
Connor Giovannoni served 11 straight points and totaled six aces to help Lathrop come away with a 22-25, 25-10, 15-7 victory.
Tory Sumbler contributed eight assists, eight solo blocks and two aces. Yamma Shams clobbered four kills, and Lucas Baluyut anchored the back row with 19 digs.
Nathan Rodriguez led East Union with seven kills, three blocks and three aces. Matthew Mejia chipped in five kills and two blocks. Jyruz Faustorilla handed out seven assists, and Gabriel Alegre had four digs.