BURBANK — After winning the Liberty League championship last season, the Providence High boys' volleyball team looked to have a good chance at repeating this season, despite losing some key players.
The Pioneers clinched at least a share of the league title with a 25-27, 25-13, 25-16, 25-22 home victory over Oakwood on Tuesday.
PHOTOS: Providence High boys' volleyball team continues undefeated
The Pioneers, who are undefeated in league play this season, can claim the title outright with a win over Pacifica Christian on Thursday on the road.
"We're happy with where we are, but our coach always tells us that we haven't accomplished anything yet," said Providence's junior captain Taylor Saldana, who led the team in the kills Tuesday with 15. "We're going to come out [on Thursday] and work hard."
The win gives Providence its second consecutive league championship after going 9-1 last season en route to reigning supreme in the Liberty League for the first time in 13 years, and going on to prevail in its CIF Southern Section Division V first-round match.
Saldana, one of the squad's returning players and a first-team all-teamer last year, has paced the team to an 8-0 mark in the Liberty League, and did so once again in the victory over the Gorillas.
"He's steady, doesn't get upset and is always pumping energy as a captain," Pioneers Coach Josh Eggleston said. "He's somebody we can count on when it comes to game-points and side-outs. He's a great player and has really grown this season."
Saldana's seven kills in the first game was not enough for Providence, who fell in a tightly contested frame that saw five lead changes and nine tie scores — the latter of which came at 25-25 thanks to a kill from Saldana, but was soon followed by a pair of points from Oakwood.
Winning the opening game was the catalyst for much jubilation on the Gorillas' side. But that was perhaps a bit premature, as Providence (13-10) made the necessary adjustments to take the next three games, and didn't face nearly as much resistance in doing so as it did in the first game.
Oakwood, meanwhile, could not sustain the momentum garnered in the first game.
"We came out tentative," Eggleston said. "We managed our errors better, made better choices and minimized our errors. That was good for six more points in games two, three and four."
"We need to learn how to stay calm and not get nervous," said Saldana, echoing his coach's sentiments. "We also need to find the court. The balls we were putting over the net went off to the side or too far, but once we found the court it helped us a lot."
The Pioneers used a 7-0 run to turn a 10-6 deficit into a 13-10 advantage midway through the second game. Chris Lingat's three aces in the stretch fueled the streak. The two teams traded the next six points before Providence reeled off nine unanswered points to end the game and even the match at one game apiece. Saldana and Ian Laue each compiled three kills in the frame. Laue finished the match with 10 kills.
Lingat, who finished the match with six aces and seven kills, showed off his potent service game again in the third game, where he closed out the stanza with three consecutive aces. The sophomore capped off a game in which the Pioneers did not trail after knotting it early at 2-2. Oakwood kept it close, until a 6-1 Providence run gave it a seven point advantage at 17-10. The lead would not dip lower than five points from that point.
"He has a great jump-serve," Eggleston said of Lingat, a sophomore. "He's very young, in his first year as a starter, and you can see his growth. He's dangerous at the service line, and when his hitting is also on he's very effective. His hard work is definitely paying off."
Neither team could muster a comfortable cushion at the expense of the other through the first 30 points of the fourth game. It would be Providence again, however, that notched the key points and controlled the late stages. Facing game-point at 24-18, the Gorillas didn't go away quietly and took the next four points, only to see Kieran McGroarty clinch the match and a share of the league title.