If a bookie was taking bets prior to the Davis High boys volleyball squad’s loss to Grant on Thursday evening, chances are the odds would have been against the hometown heroes.
That’s because the Blue Devils, who now stand at 5-6 overall (1-1 in Delta Valley Conference), were matched up with last season’s undefeated league champions. On top of that, the Pacers have bested DHS in each of their last four encounters.
But Grant (13-2, 2-0) didn’t seem all that invincible at The Cage on Thursday, and even dropped Game 2 to an invigorated Devil squad. The Pacers, however, were just tenacious enough to come away with the victory in a tight, 25-21, 15-25, 25-19, 25-20 match.
“Grant was a scrappy team, and they played really well,” said Davis assistant coach Ron Duer, who led the local boys in the absence of head coach Julie Crawford. “We had a good week of practice, and we were ready. We battled to the end.”
In the first match, it seemed as though the combined power of Blue Devil seniors Sam Manderfield and Dan Bonetti would be more than enough to break through the Pacer defense. Bonetti, who towers over opponents with his 6-foot-8 frame, landed the first few smashes of the night.
But Grant’s middle hitters — Cameron Nunn and Brandon Byrdsong — countered Bonetti’s height advantage with gravity-defying leaps and tactical smashing. As the game went on, the sophomore duo began to expose holes in the DHS defense, and often had the local boys diving at balls that landed just out of reach.
After the Pacers eventually prevailed in the opening game, they had the tables turned on them when the Devil hitters recovered with a similarly calculated approach in the second set. Davis freshman Nick Simmons found a spot in the middle of the court early on to help the Blue Devils take a lead.
The locals pressed on through several serving errors, using taps just over the net to keep the advantage — one that became a convincing 25-15 win.
In the victory, DHS also played better defense, with junior Andre Foster registering a few key blocks at the net.
However, any momentum the Devils built was slowed in the next battle — after a series of attack violations had the local boys looking visibly frustrated. Davis had rallied to even the score at 14-14 after an early deficit, but another set of serving errors once more shifted the tide in the opponent’s favor.
The placement of Grant’s hitters continued to be wise, and eventually brought the Pacers to a 25-19 Game 3 win.
Still, the Blue Devils changed sides, and started with a clean slate for what they hoped would be a comeback. But Aleksey Kiselev, another Grant middle hitter, hit his stride as the night went on, playing his best in the fourth set. Several times he faked a powerful spike only to lightly graze a shot at the feet of the DHS defense.
The tricky shots brought the Pacers and the Devils to an early four-point divide in the final game of the night, with Grant on top.
However, with good serving from Simmons and senior setter Don-Wook Shin paving the way, Davis managed to close the gap.
Eventually, though, a strong Pacer defense cemented the win.
Now, the Blue Devils hope to take some lessons away from the loss to use in their next conference matchup, against the less-practiced Laguna Creek (1-2 overall). In addition, the young DHS squad has another week of training before that April 9 encounter.
And any experience they gain will be used by the Devils, knowing that win in the rematch with Grant is an inevitability if they aspire to conference glory.
“It’s a strong league, so we’ve gotta work on everything,” Duer said after Thursday’s defeat. “We’ve started to come together as a team recently, and we are more and more every day. We’re growing, but we’re doing fine.”
— Reach Brett Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett