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Wolfpack adds one to the win column

Volleyball can be a fickle game; one team looks unbeatable at first, only to lose the momentum and, eventually, the match. Such was the case on Tuesday as Claremont lost the first set to visiting Diamond Ranch, but then rallied to take the next three, notching a fairly easy victory.

From the start of the Hacienda League game, both teams seemed well matched, but soon the Panthers started to widen their lead. At first it was just a couple of points, but nothing the Pack tried seem to change the momentum. It really looked like it was going to be a long and disappointing night for Claremont. The Panthers just seemed to be better organized, with flawless execution of plays leading to the 25-18 semi-blowout.

In the second set the Pack totally turned the tables, dominating the Panthers in the same way that they had been dominated in the first. Even though Diamond Ranch scored first, it was their last glimmer of hope as Claremont steadily marched to the 25-14 final.

The third set started much like the first, with two competitive teams playing excellent volleyball. They traded points until the score reached 9-9, when the Pack started to pull away, scoring 11 points to Diamond Ranch’s two.

The Panthers definitely had a confidence crisis, as they made many unforced errors. With a nine-point lead, the Pack just had to more or less hang on to finish the game at 25-17.

Up two sets to one, Claremont was in the driver’s seat and they did not disappoint, playing much as they had in the second, getting an early lead and never looking back. There was a mix-up at the scorer’s table when a three-point Claremont lead was changed to even at seven points. This drew an immediate protest from Pack head coach Bernie Wendling.  However, after a few minutes of discussion between officials and the scorer, the board was reset at 7-5 and play resumed. The boys earned the decisive third set easily at 24-14, with some great plays from Johnny Abrolat and Matt Davis.

“It wasn’t pretty, but we will take it,” Coach Wendling said about the inauspicious first set. “We started a little rough and were inconsistent. Plus they came in a little more energized than we did, and in volleyball energy and momentum are huge.

“We realized they were for real and we had to bring our ‘A’ game or we were going to get rolled. It was fun to see the guys respond, and they responded well”

Top performances came from Caedin Miller with 16 kills and Peter Sangthong with 11 kills. Abrolat and James Bradley each had eight kills, while Davis led in digs. “He [Davis] is a senior and really steadies the ship,” said Coach Wendling

Claremont dominated division two boys volleyball for years when the school was competing in the Pacific League, which included teams from as far away as Burbank and La Cresenta. That changed abruptly in 2013 when several key players graduated, leaving a bit of a vacuum at the top.

The team now plays in division three and has switched to the Hacienda League, which has been a positive change, according to Coach Wendling. At the same time volleyball in the Pomona Valley has gotten better, so they don’t have to travel as far to put together strong league competition.

“We have been in the Pacific League for the past 18 years. That was a great experience for us. There was not very much good volleyball around here when I took over the program, so I had to go find some good volleyball,” Coach Wendling said. “We played in a great conference—had some great rivalries. It raised the level of our program because we had to keep up. Then, a couple years ago we struggled to keep up.”

“We were blessed to have had some great families that have come through, some great athletes over the years who just worked so hard,” he said

“We are in a league that looks a bit more like where we are right now. The teams have gotten better in this area. Damien is a force to be reckoned with now, whereas before we had to drive a long way just to get teams we felt we could compete with,” Coach Wendling said.

The boys are now 2-2 in league, good enough for third place and a shot at making the playoffs if they hold on to that ranking. They have four more games, so it could go either way.

There was some grumbling that the Panthers were being a bit too vocal and talking trash from the bench. But Coach Wendling says it is all part of the game.

“Unfortunately, it happens in the guys’ games. It’s part of the reality we have always had to deal with,” he said. “Our goal is to win with dignity and lose with class.” And on Tuesday they won with both.

—Steven Felschundneff

steven@claremont-courier.com