Shouldering the Load
Player of the Year: Esperanza junior Jake Arnitz brought his A-game this season
Jake Arnitz had a heavy workload this season. And that was more than fine for the junior outside hitter from Anaheim, Calif.
The 6'7" Arnitz had an incredible season at Esperanza High School. In one match alone he took 77 swings. His kill totals are equally impressive, especially when factoring in the postseason. In the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Southern Section Division II finals against Santa Barbara, Arnitz had 44 kills. He registered 40 in the quarterfinals against Dos Pueblos, and had 26 in the semifinals against San Marcos.
Before getting to the section finals, the team had to top regional competition in the Southern California regional semis, where Arnitz put up 29 kills against Division III champion South Pasadena. He added 36 kills to help Esperanza, in its first year at the Division II level, bring home a coveted CIF Southern California regional championship.
“It’s tribute,” said Arnitz when asked if he enjoys the pressure of being set so often. “It’s what I have to do to help the team win. I practice and I play as hard as I can, and I train my body for this. My job is to go out there and figure out how to put the ball away.”
Arnitz, who finished the year with 688 kills, admitted being a go-to player does bring a level of anxiety.
“I do get a little nervous before games,” said Arnitz, who also had 37 kills in a non-league game against a strong Laguna Beach team. But the nerves don’t last very long. “Once the whistle blows, it all goes away and I don’t think about it. When I get set, I get set, and it’s time to go to work.”
Arnitz, who has committed to UCLA, was a sophomore on the 2012 senior-laden Esperanza team that reached the CIF Southern Section Division I semifinals. Nine seniors graduated from that team, demanding that Arnitz take a larger role in the leadership department.
“Last year it was all seniors except Ben [Oxnard] and me,” he said. “This year, we had to step up and figure out what we needed to do to make this team a winner. I love being a leader. I love being the person that helps people get ready. I like knowing what’s going on. I like being a captain and being in a leadership role. It helps keep me focused.”
Esperanza coach Isaac Owens had no doubt Arnitz would thrive in a spotlighted role this season.
“Jake can do just about anything and can score from just about anywhere,” Owens said. “He can place the ball wherever he likes. He’s an unselfish player. His teammates have a ton of respect for him. He makes everyone else around him better. He’s taken on an even greater leadership role. He makes guys who are not as experienced better. He never lets anything go to his head. This year he played hard and stepped up when we needed him to. It was like he was going to another level and wasn’t going to let us lose. He had a remarkable season.”
Oxnard noted one of Arnitz’s greatest strengths is the fact he’s always there for his teammates.
“He’s super consistent as a leader,” Oxnard said. “He’s the person you look to when you are in trouble or when you are in a tight spot in a match. He helps this team so much. We look to him a lot. When we need him to kill a ball, he kills a ball. He comes through in the clutch.”
Arnitz, who plays club for Balboa Bay, is most proud of securing the CIF regional title, the highest team honor available for California high school players.
“It means the world,” said Arnitz. “It’s one of the biggest accomplishments you can have. I’ve always wanted that ring. I’ve been close. To be able to finish [the season] off with a win and bring home a ring is amazing.”
A Cast of Many
Team of the Year: Depth propelled Huntington Beach High School to new heights this season
Depth in team sports can take you a lot of places. Just ask the Huntington Beach boys’ volleyball team. The Oilers were loaded with quality depth this season and used that vast talent to win the CIF Division I Southern California regional championship.
Coach Craig Pazanti’s group went 34-2 and won league, section, and regional championships. It’s the first time the Oilers have won a regional crown (the highest honor currently possible for a California high school boys’ volleyball team) since the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) went to that format five years ago.
“We had a lot of depth,” said Pazanti, who played at Huntington Beach, was an assistant coach on the 1993 and 1994 teams that won CIF titles, and led the Mater Dei girls’ program to three CIF titles. “Our depth helped us get better. We could go 10 to 12 players deep so we had guys constantly competing in practice and still getting quality reps throughout the season.”
Not only did the Oilers have depth, but the whole squad was loaded with talent.
“The best part about this team is everybody could score,” Pazanti said. “When we passed well and played defense, we were flying all over the place. At one point we had five different kill leaders in five different matches.”
Senior setter Matt Butler had many options at his disposal. He set an offense that featured five players with 100 or more kills. Sophomore TJ DeFalco, who stepped up in the playoffs, led the team with more than 400 kills. Senior Andrew TenBrink was second on the team in kills, followed by senior right side/outside Zach Gates. Juniors Brenden Sander and Ryan Morrissey rounded out the crew, although Sander was sidelined by an injury early in the season. Once he returned and the lineup settled, the Oilers rattled off 24 wins in a row.
DeFalco recorded 26 kills in the team’s section win in five sets over Loyola (Huntington Beach trailed 2-1 at one point). He also had 17 kills, including one on championship point, in the rematch with Loyola for the regional title (Huntington Beach again won in five after trailing by 8 points late in the third set).
Butler, TenBrink, and Gates were the team’s captains. All three will continue their careers at Long Beach State.
“If they got the ball to me, I pretty much had any option,” Butler said. “We didn’t have a weak spot. If we had possession of the ball, there was no reading us and no keying on one player. If we got the ball to the net, we were pretty tough to beat.”
TenBrink said the team’s talent was important, but so was its chemistry.
“Everybody on this team played for each other,” he said. “Everybody pulled together. Nobody was out there trying to do too much. Everybody did their job and did it to the best of their ability. When we were passing well we were unstoppable, especially with Matt running the offense. Everybody was a threat offensively.”
Huntington Beach’s road to the title included CIF Division I Southern Section wins over Dana Hills, Mira Costa, and Loyola (for the section title). The Oilers defeated Buchanan, San Clemente, and then downed Loyola again for the regional crown.
“From our section, there were four, five, or six teams that had enough horses to win,” said Pazanti, who returns nine players from this year’s team (losing only the Long Beach State signees). “We were just one of six. We got hot at the right time and peaked at the end of the season. We started passing well and making plays on defense. We gave Matt opportunities to run the offense. And when he has those opportunities he will pick you apart and that’s kind of what happened.”
TenBrink said there was one mission this season.
“Everybody had one collective goal,” he said. “That was to win CIF. It’s something I’ve always dreamed about ever since I started playing as a freshman at Huntington. It finally became a reality. It’s unbelievable.”
A Great Teacher
Coach of the Year: Mike Maass directed Appleton North to the Wisconsin state championship
Veteran Appleton North boys’ coach Mike Maass and his players pulled off a rare feat last fall. Appleton North defeated Burlington to win the Wisconsin boys’ volleyball state high school championship. It was the first time since the boys’ state tournament was brought back in 2001 that a Fox Valley-area team won the title. Milwaukee-area schools typically dominate the tournament. Kaukauna was the last team from the Fox Valley to win a boys’ volleyball state title way back in 1982.
This year’s Appleton North team finished a perfect 34-0 season and went 100-8 in sets. The Lightning was 18-0 against teams ranked in the final boys’ state poll.
And to top it off, Appleton North won the title without losing a match all season – the first team to run the table since the state series returned to Wisconsin. (Unlike most other states, Wisconsin has boys’ volleyball play in the fall and not the spring.)
Maass attributed much of the team’s success to the players themselves.
“We had good senior leadership,” said Maass, who has coached the boys at Appleton North for 12 years and also coaches at the girls’ club level with the Fox Cities Elite program in Appleton. “We had 11 seniors and some of them started for three years. We picked up seniors as we went along.”
The team’s incredible success is even more impressive considering the background of most players. Maass, who is 258-80 with six conference titles and six state tournament appearances to his credit in 12 seasons, explained players in the Fox Valley area of Wisconsin generally do not come into high school with a lot of club experience.
“Up here the game we always have to play is catch-up,” said Maass, who has coached 12 all-state players and five conference players of the year. “They usually don’t start playing up here until their freshman year,” he said. “We take a lot of pride in getting it done without having a lot of club kids. We do have guys who play with the WVA Nightmares club that qualified for nationals this year. The thing that helped us is these guys are good athletes. They are very good in other sports and that was why we were successful in volleyball.”
Senior Connor Seiler, for example, recently earned three state track and field medals, while Clark Eagan is going on to play baseball at the University of Arkansas.
“Over half the team was on a very successful football team in junior high that went undefeated and was un-scored upon,” Maass noted.
Maass also said that the players’ athletic prowess helps them learn volleyball skills quickly. “They have tons of athletic ability and size. I just showed them the fundamentals and the basics you need to play volleyball, and then I let these guys be athletes.”
Appleton North senior Drew Eastman was a bit more emphatic concerning the level of credit Maass deserves for the team’s success.
“He’s taught us everything we know,” he said. “He played a major role in this. We all owe him a lot.”
Albers added, “He knew the little things that needed fixing and that brought us to the next level.”
Wisconsin Player of the Year Connor Gross, the team’s setter who is headed to Ball State in Muncie, Ind., said Maass’ teachings meant everything to the team.
“He got us the experience the previous two years,” Gross said. “The thing he does the best is he challenges us, and then he puts things in our hands and lets us play.”
Seiler added, “He trusted us with everything. He trusted us to get the job done.”
Middle blocker Peter Dalgleish was impressed with how Maass kept the humility level in check during the season.
“We had a lot of players coming back, and we were pretty confident going into the year,” Dalgleish said. “He did a great job of keeping us grounded and telling us not to be content with how we play and always be hungry and strive for better.”
Maass, who played college ball at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (when UWM was a member of the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association), said breaking the streak of Milwaukee-area team success at the state level was an important accomplishment for the Fox Valley program.
“The teams in the Milwaukee area have dominated,” he said. “A lot of that is the strength of clubs such as North Shore and [West Allis] Lightning. They start kids younger around there and they have junior-high programs down there in the private schools. To break through makes [the win] a little more special.”
Originally published in August 2013