Though you would never know it by the weather, the spring sports season is upon us and—maybe for once—San Marino High School’s boys’ volleyball team is glad they play their games inside a gym.
But though the weather may be different, the song is still the same for most of the school’s coaches: “We lost a lot of seniors from last year’s team.”
This week’s soloist is Tony Chou, now entering his fourth season as head coach after playing for the Titan spikers up until his graduation in 2005. But the subject of “graduation is not a pleasant one for Chou, who lost five starters to the diploma from last year’s Rio Hondo League co-champions.
Expectations are low but achievement is high early in the season as the Titans have shown flashes of brilliance in early season play. Such was the case Tuesday afternoon, when San Marino hosted powerful Flintridge Prep in what turned out to be a surprisingly close contest before the Rebels won in three straight sets.
“I think we are doing pretty well,” Chou said. “We had that huge class graduate last year but Michael Baldocchi and Kyle Yu are two surprising additions to this year’s team.”
Chou thought the Flintridge Prep contest was “a pretty good showcase of who we are. Kyle and Michael have played maybe one month of volleyball so far and even though we lost, it was a very competitive game.”
Chou elected to introduce his team by starting with the younger players first, and there’s Yu—a setter—who is just a freshman.
“Kyle has never even set before but a few of us coaches noticed his natural athleticism,” Chou said. “So we brought him up and he is doing an excellent job.”
Along with that rare freshman, Chou has several sophomores who have been making early contributions. Aaron Lu is backing up Yu at setter.
“Aaron has stepped up a lot and has an excellent grasp of the offense we are trying to run,” Chou said. “He is doing very well.”
Outside hitter Justin Suimanjaya is getting a lot of playing time.
“Justin is a very competitive kid and has played well in our tournaments,” said the coach. He is a very solid all-around player. I have really high hopes for Justin and what he can do for this program.”
Likewise, lanky sophomore Johnny Luo.
“Johnny is adapting and learning really quickly,” Chou said. “He mixes in at middle blocker and opposite hitter. He is going to be a very good player for us at either one of those positions.”
Sophomore Victor Fuan rotates between outside hitter and defensive specialist.
“Victor is very, very athletic and works hard to get to his spots. Has a very good understanding of the game, especially for a sophomore.”
Sophomore Christofer Duenas is the starting libero during the early weeks of the season.
“Christopher has been very integral in anchoring our defense and he is also a very good all-around player,’ Chou told The Tribune.
Brandon Kar is another sophomore who makes a living on defense. Kar plays both libero and defensive specialist.
“Brandon has a very good reach playing defense,” Chou exclaimed. “He and Chris will dictate how well we do this year. With Brandon, it’s just a matter of building confidence and he will improve. I look forward to seeing how far he advances in this sport.”
Junior Matthew Harlan, a lefthander, is pushing for playing time at the right side hitter spot.
“We are really glad to have Matt back,” Chou said. “He considered dedicating himself to wrestling full time but eventually decided to play volleyball this year. I actually think that wrestling has helped him. Matt has a very high volleyball IQ and wrestling has contributed to his endurance.”
Junior Mitchell Cootauco has excelled at outside hitter and played well in Tuesday’s loss.
“Mitchell plays middle blocker for his club team and he has made adjustments for us,” said Chou. “He is doing really well attacking the ball and is also very active in defense. Mitchell is a very important player for us.”
Junior Joshua Hom also switches back and forth between libero and defensive specialist.
Joshua is very eager to play and is very active on his feet,” said Chou. “With Josh, it’s just a matter of making some small tweaks and he will be a huge help on the defensive end of the court.”
Junior Seth Matzumoto was a beast on the football field as one of the Titans’ leading tacklers. He is now working to contribute in a sport where contact with an opponent is not only discouraged, it’s often illegal.
“Seth can play any position on the court and that allows us to have depth everywhere,” Chou said. “It will be up to the coaching staff to decide where to play him. Seth is very well rounded.”
Junior Carver Weirick is beginning to come into his own as an elite level volleyball player. The junior outside hitter had 13 kills and six blocks against the Rebels and also shined on defense.
“Carver has really developed his skill set and understands how to be more efficient on the court,” Chou explained. “He is also improving his serving game and defense and that makes us a much more competitive team.”
Outside hitter Kai Barra, also a junior, is one of the mainstays from last season’s squad. “Kai has improved from last year in a leadership capacity to where he can delegate a little and not carry al of the weight on his shoulders,” Chou said. “He is also the most consistent player we have from a statistical standpoint.”
Just two seniors suit up for the Titans and one of them has never played volleyball in his life. Michael Baldocchi recently ended a solid four-year basketball career and decided to try another game that requires an extensive vertical jump. The early returns are fantastic.
“We are really glad to have Michael and what is interesting is he might be one of the most coachable players I have ever had,” said Chou, who is not prone to hyperbole. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a new strategy or technique, Michael is very open to suggestion. He could develop into a very valid middle blocker for us.”
Last but certainly not least is senior middle blocker Eric Fu, who also plays basketball and volleyball. Fu recorded six kills and four blocks in Tuesday’s contest.
“Eric is finding his rhythm especially offensively,” Chou explained. “He is able to put the ball down and is also a top all-around threat. Eric is a very impactful player offensively and defensively.”
Chou will need as many “impact players” he can roll out onto the court if the Titans are going to match last year’s performance. San Marino ended last year’s campaign as co-champions of the Rio Hondo League with South Pasadena, and the Tigers are loaded again.
“South Pasadena is probably still the strongest team, but everyone in the league is very young,” Chou said. “But I really think we can compete. We have a lot of dynamic young players and I think it will be a very competitive and entertaining season. But we need more consistent passing.”
Spoken like a true coach.[table id=34 /]