Verdugo Hills Falls to South Gate in CIF City Section D2 Finals
As the top seed in the CIF City Section Division 2 boys volleyball playoffs, the Verdugo Hills Dons had a strong opportunity to give coach Will Reinhart his first city championship since he took over the program 27 years ago. Reinhart had led the Dons to four previous finals, but his teams have not been able to take home the title. Unfortunately for the Dons, the title match on Saturday May 14 would end in familiar fashion. They fell to the second seeded South Gate Rams in 4 sets, 25-15, 22-25, 14-25, 20-25.
Verdugo came out of the gates strong behind their captains, seniors Aram Hakobjanyan, Ramon Rodriguez and Silas Rychlick. The Dons’ powerful front line of Hakobjanyan, Rychlick and senior Marquel Gardner flexed their skills with multiple kills and blocks to give Verdugo a quick lead they would not relinquish. Rodriguez was in control, distributing the ball well and setting up the Dons hitters. They pushed the lead out to 10 points at 20-10 and took the first set handily.
The Dons started the second set with the same push that won them the opening set, jumping out to a 5-point lead at 10-5 before the Rams called a timeout. South Gate came out of the huddle with a renewed sense of urgency, battling back to tie the set at 15-apiece and took their first lead of the match at 16-17. Both teams traded side-outs until the score was tied at 22. The Rams scored the next three points to take the set 22-25.
South Gate took the momentum from that set and carried it into the third, scoring the first six points before Verdugo attempted to rally. The Dons recorded the next four points, prompting another Rams timeout. Just like in the previous set, South Gate returned to action on a mission, pushing their lead to 5-13. The Dons attempted to battle back into the set, getting as close as six points at 12-18 but their passing was not quite there and that was as small as the gap would be. The Rams closed out with a 7-2 run to take the set 14-25.
The fourth set followed a similar script, but was a closer affair. South Gate held an early lead and Verdugo attempted to regain control of the match, but a 4-3 deficit for the Dons quickly became 9-3 pushing Reinhart to call timeout. Unfortunately, the lead only widened afterwards, as the Rams held leads of 12-5, 17-10, and 23-15. Verdugo would attempt to rally and force a fifth set, but it was not to be. South Gate held on to win the Division 2 championship with a 20-25 victory, three sets to one.
The loss ends Reinhart’s 27 year tenure leading the boy’s program. “The narrative is good either way,” he said before the match, “because if we lose it’s ‘Oh he couldn’t win the big one, 0-5 (in City Championships with boys teams)’... and if we win it’s “monkey off the back, ride off into the sunset John Wooden style.’” Though he finishes this run unable to hang a City Section banner in Verdugo’s gym, “The Barn,” Reinhart is proud of his time and of all of his teams. “We had a great year regardless,” he said “the season has been a success, league championship, my 14th in just 27 years. The boys had to come back from adversity, losing to Grant at their place at the beginning and having to battle all the way back (to claim a share of the East Valley League Title).”
The Dons have a strong foundation in place moving forward, with eight players potentially returning from this team. Whoever takes the reigns will be starting from a place of strength. Reinhart will undoubtedly allow himself some rest before turning his attention to the fall season and the defending co-East Valley League champion girl’s program.