Sophomore Kevin Szelong approaches the ball for a kill in the third game of the varsity boys volleyball match against The King's Academy on March 21. MVHS won 3-0 (25-14, 25-20, 25-18). Photo by Kevin Tsukii.

The ball flew into the air as sophomore Kevin Szelong kicked it up high to sophomore Ryan Manley for the kill. It was an unusual but valid save in the middle of the third game in the varsity boys volleyball match against the King’s Academy on March 21.

Szelong’s kick was part of a match with strong kills and solid passing that made up for inconsistent serves, allowing the Matadors to take away a victory 3-0 (25-14, 25-20, 25-18). Even though the match ended in three quick games, the team, according to junior Cory Low, didn’t play their best.

“Our warm-ups weren’t very good today,” Low said. “We started off very sluggish and it affected us on the court.”

The first game started with the King’s Academy serving, and a kill by sophomore Ryan Manley that gave MVHS the first point. Although possession of the serve switched back and forth, the Matadors were able to their lead throughout the rest of the game. Manley and junior Derrick Chiu, with three kills each, managed to put the ball away when it was set to them. Senior Alex Balus helped close the game with his two aces in a row. The King’s Academy was unable to defend Low’s last spike, ending the game 25-14.

“We run a 5-1 with a single setter all the way around. [Senior] Jeffery [Zhang] set for the first two games and Derrick set the third game,” coach Paul Chiu said. “Derrick and [Manley] did a really good job on the outside — kind of dominated the game. Whenever they got the ball, they put [it] away. [Zhang] did a good job spreading the ball around in terms of all the hitters.”

The second game had a total of 27 sideouts between both teams due to the Matadors’ several unforced errors, including violations from touching the net, hitting errors and mishandling the King’s Academy’s easy hits over the net. not moving quickly enough to bump up the opponent’s easy hits over the net. As Knights began to narrow MVHS’s lead, middle blocker senior Avery Hua had one kill and blocked two of the King’s Academy’s hits.

According to Paul, their strong offensive hitters made up for inconsistent serve-receiving —  in this game, Derrick had three kills and senior Brandon Tiongson had two kills despite the noticeable sluggishness. The game ended with an MVHS sideout 25-20.

“They tried a lot harder than we did for sure, but skill-wise, there’s a big deficit in [their] skill compared to [ours]. We took it for granted that we were a lot better than them,” Derrick said. “We still won, but we didn’t play as well as we could have.”

MVHS trailed the King’s Academy for the first time 7-8 in the third game, as the Matadors’ defense could not pick up four of the Knights’ kills, two of which were from the back row. However, the Matadors quickly caught up in the next sideout with Derrick’s kill and continued using their strong offense, scoring three consecutive points and quickly regaining position of the serve. Manley had a total of five kills in this game, allowing MVHS to pull further ahead. The game ended on an MVHS sideout with Low’s last kill 25-18 for the 3-0 win.

The team’s main goal for improvement, according to Paul, involves consistency in defensive plays and serving. The team will be spending more time serving and serve-receiving, as well as practicing with a more match-like attitude in order to carry the intensity into the upper-league matches.

“We can get away with the serves and not passing well against some of the less experienced teams and the teams that are weaker in the league,” Paul said. “But we have to be more consistent [and] get rid of unforced errors. We missed a lot of serves today that shouldn’t have been missed.”

The team’s next match is on March 23 against Lynbrook High School, where the Matadors will be missing both starting middle Hua and backup middle junior Matt Lem. Sophomore Kevin Szelong, who played middle for the first time of the season in this match, will continue playing middle against the upcoming Lynbrook match.

“We’re going to be short-handed,” Paul said. “And we’re going to be at Lynbrook; it’s going to be a hostile environment. But we should be okay — we play our game, we’ll be fine.”

MVHS won against Lynbrook 3-1 (28-26, 22-25, 25-21, 25-22) on March 23.
The team’s next home game is March 27 at 6:45pm in the gym vs. Mountain View High School.

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