In a rematch of last season’s City Section finals, the Palisades High boys volleyball team once again got the best of Granada Hills in its season opener at home last Wednesday night.
The 3-1 win also marked the debut of head coach Randy Stoklos, who inherited the program from Chris Forrest. Stoklos, a lifelong Palisadian and PaliHi grad, starred on the beach volleyball circuit with Sinjin Smith, as the duo teamed up to win 113 open tournaments in 11 years.
Last Wednesday, Stoklos got what he hopes will be a sneak preview of good things to come against a formidable Granada Hills team. The Dolphins earned a hard-fought, 25-13, 22-25, 25-21, 25-23 victory in a back-and-forth affair.
Early on, Palisades grabbed a 7-2 lead and never trailed in the first set, scoring the final five points. The set was highlighted by a pair of kills and an ace by senior middle blocker Grant Putgatch, who was a force all night.
“For this being our first match, we’ve had literally a couple hours in the gym for practice [because of the basketball schedule] and the rest has been outside on the blacktop,” Stoklos said. “[Granada Hills] is a quality team and all these games are going to be close, but the sign of a good team is a team that can win games at the end.”
PaliHi was pressed into close-game mode after the Highlanders shifted the momentum in the second set, leading for all but one point. Pugatch added another ace and senior middle blocker Emmet Power made several key plays.
In the third set, three kills by Pugatch helped Pali gain a 12-9 advantage, and a pair of kills late by senior defensive specialist Josh Kornblum sealed the 25-21 win. Kornblum later had a hand in closing out the match as well, as he snapped a 23-23 tie with consecutive aces to end the match.
“Josh did a terrific job,” Stoklos said. “At the very end, serving those two big aces to give us 24 and 25, it was a big match for him. I think the guys came together as a team.
“For a player who played professionally for 21 years, this was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done in volleyball,” Stoklos continued. “It was very much of a high-anxiety day. I’m glad we got the win and that it’s past us now, and I’m looking forward to an incredible season.”
Palisades played on Tuesday at Carson and opened its Western League schedule yesterday at home against Fairfax. The Dolphins play at Westchester next Monday and at LACES on Wednesday, then will not play again until after spring break on April 3 at Hamilton.