The 2017 Ocean League Champion – and defending 2016 CIF Champion – Culver City Centaur Girls Volleyball Team. Photo courtesy of cchs.ccusd.org
SPENDING TIME WATCHING A VOLLEYBALL MATCH FOR THE FIRST TIME IN A FEW YEARS
I had promised myself that when my cousin, a promising freshman playing junior varsity volleyball at the school where I had graduated from in 1985, Santa Monica High School, better known to the locals as Samohi, that when her team came to Culver City to play their league rival Centaurs, I would be there.
I set out to fulfill that promise on October 19th, when for the second time in less than a week I journeyed to Culver City High School, this time to check out a showdown between the two best girls varsity volleyball teams in the Ocean League, Samohi’s Vikings facing Culver High’s Centaurs in a very cozy Del Goodyear Gymnasium on campus.
Much like at the Centaur football game which I saw six days before, the place was filled to the brim with energy and enthusiasm among the Culver students who flocked to the varsity match, which would decide the league title as the two teams had previously battled at my alma mater’s gym, Culver taking Samo in five games.
The fact that it was Senior Day, the 12th graders getting honored with love and flowers beforehand, no doubt helped the atmosphere and determination as those young lady Centaurs were determined to not only capture the league crown, but to also repeat as CIF champions as they had won the whole thing in 2016.
After I had greeted my cousin, who was hanging out with her Samohi JV teammates (more on her & them in a bit), I settled in the stands to watch the varsity match, “Let’s Go Samo!” and “Let’s Go Culver!” ringing through that gym.
Samohi’s young ladies in action in their gym. Photo courtesy of the samohivolleyball.weebly.com
Having had experience coaching volleyball at the beginning level, spending two years coaching the 5th and 6th grade co-ed team at First Lutheran School in Venice in the mid-1990s and starting a co-ed volleyball team among the middle school students at Village Glen West School in Culver City in 2003 – though I don’t pretend to be any kind of expert as baseball and softball are my sports – it had been a while since I saw a volleyball game, and I was looking forward to it.
To say that Samo and Culver didn’t disappoint would have been an understatement, as once again I witnessed how much of a rivalry – a nice, friendly rivalry, I must emphasize – in Los Angeles’ Westside those two schools have, having seen their softball counterparts battle the previous spring.
It may not be at the level of Crenshaw vs Dorsey in South L.A., and the Garfield-Roosevelt rivalry in East Los Angeles, which dates back over eighty years, is in my opinion the biggest high school rivalry – sports and otherwise – in the Los Angeles area (their football teams just met for the 83rd time in the East L.A. Classic football game in front of a Texas high school-sized crowd of over 15,000 the other night at East L.A. College, Garfield winning 34-14)
But Santa Monica-Culver City is not chopped liver, as it’s come a long way and growing with each passing year; that high school rivalry is the best the Westside has. In all sports.
As for the match…
The prevailing thought as I was watching those lady Vikings and Centaurs serve, set, spike, and block was that I had forgotten how exciting volleyball is.
Even though Culver City swept Santa Monica, winning three straight games and the Ocean League title by the scores of 25-16, 25-22 and 29-27, Samohi’s young ladies showed some major fight throughout; I commented to a fan that the third game reminded me of the Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier’s epic classic “Thrilla In Manila” fight in 1975, where those two legends brawled so intensely for 15 rounds.
No punches were thrown among these girls of course, but the match had a similar sense of intensity and emotion as the screaming reached a fever pitch among the crowd after every point.
After Culver won the last point and the match, the Centaur girls doing the mandatory celebrating and hugging, I made it a point to tell their young coach, Tanner Siegal, what a good job he had done.
I also made it a point to chat with Santa Monica’s coach, Liane Sato, whose family I had known since my elementary school days as their mother was a teacher’s aide at Will Rogers School, where I attended (with the team’s assistant coach, Nguyen Trinh, who was a year ahead of me) from 4th through 6th grade in the ancient times of the mid to late-1970s. I found Sato to be enthusiastic, engaging, and just plain nice; it was a good interaction with the volleyball representatives of the high school that gave me my diploma.
Culver High’s young ladies during a “Dig Pink Game”, raising breast cancer awareness. Photo courtesy of youtube.com
OK, on to checking out my cousin in the JV match…
As I settled down in the stands to watch Samohi and Culver High’s junior varsity teams get it on, I realized that I had never seen my cousin play.
Which made me look forward to the match that much more.
The first impression I got was that my cousin, who at 14 years old is already six feet tall, wasn’t the only girl with height on her team as there were at least two other Vikings approaching her tallness, Samohi definitely having the advantage there.
Putting it another way, if Santa Monica’s JV girls volleyball team were the “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980s, my cousin would have been Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as she stood out in the huddles.
Much like their varsity sisters, the JV match saw Culver getting leads, but Samo putting out much effort and fighting for every point, only with more successful results as after the Centaurs won the first game 25-18, the Vikings took the second game 25-13 before I had to leave.
As for my cousin, I was impressed with her play as I saw her doing a good dig and block of a spike.
She definitely showed much potential as a freshman; it was easy to see that if she develops the way I expect, she’ll have a great future in the sport as a few colleges have already sent letters.
The Bottom Line:
I had a very good time watching two very good volleyball teams, on both the varsity and JV level, play their hearts out.
Being that this is the very first volleyball article on this site, I’m glad that the school I graduated from and the school I live a short walk from gave me quite the show.
I’m going to make every effort to see them in the CIF Finals, should they make it that far as Samo and Culver have both made the playoffs, hosting the first round at their respective schools tomorrow.
It should go without saying that I wish my cousin and everyone else in the two programs all the best going forward.
A photo of the Girls Volleyball team at my alma mater, Santa Monica High School. Photo courtesy of Facebook.