In sports, it’s not how you start; it’s how you finish. Take the first games of the Damien Spartans’ Boys Volleyball team in each of its three matches Friday at the annual Crescenta Valley Volleyball Tournament. No please, take them; Damien lost each of them (by a combined score of 75-53). Thankfully for head coach Randy Bohlmann’s Spartans, each of their matches shared another trend: a game two in which, somewhere along the line, the Green Gang shifted into a whole different gear and amped up both its energy and execution.

Saving its best for later resulted in Damien winning two straight matches against Marshall and Valley Christian, and nearly winning a third against Canyon in a tightly contested match, the outcome of which determined who would be the pool’s number one and number two seeds in today’s Gold Division play. Here is a recap of how Damien’s three matches played out:

Match one vs. Marshall

Fueled by quick and scrappy play on the floor and zealous cheering on the sideline, Marshall engineered a torrid 13-4 run that took the score from a 10-10 tie to a 23-14 blowout. With senior defensive specialist Martin Reyes serving late in the game, Damien converted three consecutive points of its own to keep hope alive. But the Spartans, having spent most of the game swimming upstream, couldn’t cut the deficit any lower than five points, and lost by a final score of 25-19.

Game two was a more competitive affair, but once again saw Damien struggle to fend of Marshall’s relentless pressure. That is, until the game’s distinct turning point occurred. Leading 21-18, the Barristers hit a ball that was almost certainly going to land on the Spartan side of the net. But junior libero Nick Hibshman had other plans, as he converted an outstanding diving dig that kept the rally alive and culminated in a spike for junior Chris Mercado. Suddenly, a margin that very easily could have been four points was now just two points. And just as suddenly, Damien was reinvigorated.

Thanks to inspired activity around the net from senior middle blockers Chris Jorritsma and John Prata (both of whom were terrific the entire night), clutch defensive plays by junior outside hitter Michael Spinney and the steady serve of sophomore defensive specialist Brandon Nyquist, the Spartans went on a 7-3 run to steal the second game from the stunned Barristers. And Damien didn’t miss a beat in game three, riding its newfound momentum all the way to a convincing 15-8 series win.

Match two vs. Valley Christian

Just like its first match, Damien appeared to be on the wrong end of the talent and rhythm battles in the first game of its second match vs. the Valley Christian Crusaders. Though the Spartans hung around for much of the game, it felt as though the fired up Crusaders were in total control from start to finish. Valley Christian’s 25-21 game one victory, as well as its countless string of blocks near the net seemed to indicate that Damien had met its match. Fool me twice ... Like clockwork, the Spartans chose game two to pull out its best stuff and never put it away.

After establishing a 17-14 lead, Damien played its absolute best volleyball of the season to the tune of an incredible 8-0 run that gave the boys in green the well-deserved 25-14 victory. During the run, Jorritsma and Prata were unstoppable forces, and Mercado, as well as senior setter captain Christian Hernandez, made tremendous plays away from the net that kept the Spartans’ volleys alive and set them back on track.

And once again, Damien would retain its flip-the-script momentum for the third game and leave an opponent looking bewildered in its wake, as the Spartans jumped out to a 10-6 lead. The Crusaders, to their credit, did not go quietly, rallying back to make the score 11-10. But Damien had one more surge left in the tank, going on a 4-0 run punctuated with an exclamation point by a vicious Prata spike to win 15-11.

rnMatch three vs. Canyon

The stakes were high for Damien’s third and final match against Canyon, who also defeated Marshall and Valley Christian, as the winner would earn the right to represent the pool (Pool C, if you were wondering) as a top seed in Saturday’s Gold

Division championship play, while the loser would have to settle for a second seed. The 66th ranked Comanches were the favorites, and Game One served as indisputable proof as to why. In a game that was never close, Canyon dominated en route to a 25-13 win.

Though the Spartans’ Game One implosion was their roughest stretch of the night, betting against a Damien outburst in Game Two still felt like a sucker bet. Right on cue, the resilient Spartans came storming back with a performance that was arguably as good, if not better, than its Game Two display against Valley Christian. Jorritsma, Prata and junior middle blocker Marco Rodriguez-Fleishman could not be stopped near the net, and Damien received some extraordinary serving from freshman outside hitter Daniel Enriquez (who recorded a handful of aces on the night) and sophomore defensive specialist Albert Lu. But the catalyst was Mercado, whose unflappable energy and plucky hitting was crucial in enabling the Spartans’ to break an 18-all tie and hold off the pesky Comanches for a gutsy 25-21 victory.

As anyone watching Damien throughout the night would come to expect, the Spartans continued their terrific team play in Game Three. Still fired up about the opportunity at hand, Mercado helped his Spartans jump out to a 3-0 lead to start the game. But this time around, however, Canyon’s superior length was too much for Damien to overcome, as it jumped out to a 10-6 lead, and staved off Damien’s late last stand for a 15-11 win. 

rnUp Next: Gold Division Play

The night may have ended in disappointment for Damien, but it also evinced a great deal of promise. The Spartans’ performance against the Comanches in Games two and three of the final match proved that Damien absolutely deserves a spot in the Gold Division (which features the Tournament’s eight best teams) and can certainly hang in there with a team of Canyon’s caliber. Whether or not it can beat Canyon or a similarly talented team and win the Crescenta Valley Volleyball Tournament remains to be seen on Saturday.

rnOther News

Paraclete and Bishop Salesian of the Los Angeles archdiocese also competed in the Tournament on Friday (in Pools B and D, respectively). Though neither team fared as well it would’ve hoped (combined 0-6 Day One record), both teams will have the chance for redemption in Saturday’s Silver Division tournament.