Above and Beyond

Pali High Boys Volleyall Defeats El Camino Real in Four Sets to Repeat as City Open Division Champion

By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor

All season long it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Palisades High’s boys volleyball team would repeat as the City Section Open Division champion. Hours after his team was awarded the No. 1 seed in the eight-team tournament, though, Coach Carlos Gray tweeted: “There is no such thing as a clear favorite in high school athletics.”

“Crater creator” Akhil Tangutur gets high for a kill versus El Camino Real’s Benjamin Nguyen in Palisades’ victory at Birmingham High.
Photo: Craig Weston

Gray referenced the Dolphins’ girls team in the fall which defied all odds to win the City title in a year it was not expected to. Even after the boys swept through the first two rounds easily, senior setter and captain Marcus Partain warned his teammates the final wouldn’t be a cakewalk.

Indeed it wasn’t, but the Dolphins recovered from a sloppy first set to beat second-seeded El Camino Real, 23-25, 25-18, 25-20, 25-14, on Saturday in Lake Balboa to capture their third straight City crown and leave their mark as one of the most dominant teams in section history.

“Yes, I’d have to say that this is the best team I’ve ever coached in terms of the level at which they play, the consistency and their ability to make complicated in-game adjustments,” said Gray, whose squad set a school single-season record for victories on the way to its 16th City title. “There’s no substitute for good old-fashioned athleticism.”

Just like the girls did in November, the boys took down three West Valley League foes in the postseason and finished 17-0 in best-of-five matches versus City opponents, dropping only one of 52 sets played.

“They got up two sets on us in the semis last year, so I was prepared for this mentally,” said UC Irvine-bound senior hitter Akhil Tangutur, the City Player of the Year last spring. “We made 14 unforced errors in the first set and still almost won, so we just had to clean things up.”

Miles Partain watches as Palisades teammate Justin Howard spikes past Conquistadores blocker Trevor Jackson in last Saturday’s final.

Tangutur’s ace clipped the top of the tape and dropped over for an ace to pull his side level at one set apiece, Mason Mallory hit off a block to give Palisades the third set and the Dolphins raced to a 17-4 lead in the fourth before winning it on a netted serve on the third match point.The celebration was subdued because there was still work to be done. The next morning Palisades (41-2) was seeded No. 2 in the CIF SoCal Regionals behind Southern Section Division I winner Newport Harbor.

“We’re confident about regionals,” Ohio State-bound middle blocker Justin Howard said. “It’s not going to be given to us—it will be much harder than this—but if we play loose and free and smart, we can do it.”

The Dolphins hosted Saddleback Valley Christian on Tuesday and, if victorious, will host Westview or Mira Costa in the semifinals tonight.