By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
There is only one way Palisadian Will Bantle envisioned ending his senior season: with a resounding victory.
It seemed poetic justice that the senior outside hitter served the last point of last Friday night’s Southern California Regional volleyball final and when teammate Jaxon Drake got an emphatic block to cap Loyola High’s 25-23, 25-20, 25-19 sweep of Corona del Mar, Bantle’s dream was reality.
Five weeks earlier, Bantle’s big brother Jackson (a two-year varsity letterman and Mission League MVP at Loyola), concluded his collegiate volleyball career at UCLA in an MPSF quarterfinal loss to UC Irvine.
“He’s been a huge help and I wanted this not so much for him but for all of us seniors because this was our last game together,” he said. “Everyone was pumped up and it feels good because they beat us in the CIF finals.”
The Sea Kings swept Loyola to win the Southern Section Division I crown, but the rematch was all Cubs. Asked if it was the most satisfying win of his life, Bantle answered: “It’s one of them. I’d say this and last year’s [CIF] final against CDM, which was tight up to the last point.”
Will now follows in Jackson’s footsteps by heading to an NCAA Division I program, but it won’t be at Westwood. Instead, he’ll travel across the country to play for East Coast powerhouse Penn State.
Loyola junior libero Ryan Pecsok, who also plays on Bantle’s Manhattan Beach Surf club team, called his fellow Palisadian the heart and soul of the Cubs: “Will is so steady and consistent. He’s the rock of our team and if we’re in trouble we can go straight to him.”
Another teammate inspired by Bantle’s determination is junior setter and Huntington resident Andrew Bagnard.
“I’ve known Will since I was in 6th grade,” said Bagnard, who used to play with Bantle in the Pacific Palisades Volleyball Club. “He’s very steady… a good leader. He’s never gotten down on himself.”
Bantle is also friends with Loyola senior middle blocker Ian Parish, who played at Corpus Christi School.
Loyola finished the season with 29 wins in 31 matches and avenged both of its losses. Bantle was at his best in the regional playoffs, registering six kills and an ace in the quarterfinals versus Clovis Buchanan, 14 kills and one ace in the semifinals against Oak Park and four kills, three blocks and two aces against Corona del Mar. Also accomplished on the sand, Bantle plans to enter some beach tournaments this summer to stay sharp for indoor.
“They play different positions (Jackson is a libero/oppositer), so it’s really hard to compare. They both know the game so well and have volleyball IQs out of this world,” Loyola Coach Michael Boehle said. “Will may not jump the highest or hit the ball the hardest, but he’s the smartest player on our team and I’m going to miss him.”