It had been 15 years since men’s volleyball hoisted a state title. Over the course of four sets Saturday night, the Brahmas changed that.
In the CCCAA State Championship final, the No. 4 Brahmas found themselves opposite the No. 2 Orange Coast College Pirates, a team they lost to in straight sets back in February. But there was no desire for a parlay or retreat.
“We might not have the prettiest record, but we’re playing the best volleyball when it matters,” Brahmas head coach Lance Walker said. “And that’s a special thing. That takes grit.”
The opening set was a back-and-forth affair, neither team able to take control. The largest lead for each team was two until the Brahmas held set-point at 24-21 before finally taking it 25-22 on a kill by Cole Chea.
“My job is to get the big kills,” Chea said. “That’s all I’m needed for.”
The Pirates fired back in the second set, winning 25-17 in dominant fashion. Orange Coast held the lead in the set from 4-3 on.
The third set started out much like the first with both teams jockeying for position, looking to claim the critical momentum. Seven set points were played until finally the Brahmas came away with a 31-29 win.
With only one set between them and a state title, the Brahmas stormed out of the gates, leading by as much as nine points multiple times in the first half of the set.
But as you would expect from the No. 2 team in the state, Orange Coast was not ready to fly the white flag.
Trailing 19-11, the Pirates fought their way back into the match. A six-point run cut the lead to 19-17, but that’s as close as the Brahmas would allow them to get.
Fittingly, the final point came on a kill from tournament MVP Chea, assisted by Bernardo Roese, the conference MVP, a sight that was seen throughout the season.
Chea did not want to let the match go to a fifth set.
“Don’t let it go any longer than it needed to be, that was my mindset,” Chea said. “My sweaty outside hitter was like ‘This is the last shirt I have, you better put it away.’”
Chea finished the night with 21 kills and 25 total points, bringing his totals to 30 and 38 in the two games. Despite the individual honor, Chea stayed humble about his performance.
“I can say easily that other people deserve it more,” Chea said. “I feel like everyone should be MVP right now. It’s a title. I got the big kills, but really, who gave me the sets, who got the passes for the set.”
Joining Chea on the all-tournament team were Morgan Wadlow and Roese.
Team captain Roese, who finished the season second in the state in assists per set with 10.11, added 48 assists in the title game.
The title is the eighth for men’s volleyball, and the first since 2003. That 2003 victory capped off a four-year streak of state titles.
The Brahmas season started off slow with eligibility issues limiting the roster, but assistant coach Teddy Niemira believes that helped get them to this point.
“We learned to play more volleyball because of it,” Niemira said. “When it comes down to it, we knew what we were made of, and we were made of more than them.”
The early season limitations left the Brahmas with a poor out of conference record. In fact, the 14-6 overall record is the worst record the Brahmas have had in a championship season, nudging out 2000’s 14-4 mark.
Walker was a member of that 2000 championship team, and now, in his seventh year as head coach, he gets to experience the feeling from the other end of the bench.
“That’s probably one of the greatest and most honorable things,” Walker said. “Being able to do this for a school that has given me so much.”
Walker said that this victory is not just about what was done this season.
“We’ve worked on this for seven years. There’s a lot of bridge builders that got us to this point,” Walker said. “There’s a lot of guys who have come through our program to set the foundation for Brahmas to come.”
Walker said the crowd made the night special. Namesake of the Brahmas’ home court Ken Stanley was in attendance, as well as Pierce College President Kathleen Burke.
“It’s about Pierce pride, but I think it’s more important to them,” Burke said. “They’ll remember this their whole lives.”
Walker’s title win as a player was the first of four straight for the Brahmas, and he knows that the team can not rest on their laurels heading into next season.
“Now it’s up to the guys who are coming back on how hard they’re going to work now that we have the target on our back,” Walker said.