Boys’ volleyball comes back to defeat Los Gatos


Viking outside hitter Julian Hong aims a short tip past Wildcat setter Riley Nguyen Wednesday at a home game the Vikings won, 3-2, against Los Gatos High School. According to Wildcat head coach Brynja Thompson, it was an even matchup that they had special preparation for. “Paly has a lot of really talented players,” Thompson said. “We like to focus on the top hitters for each team, and Paly has a lot.” (Photo: Evan Chien)

Nathan Jiang and Evan Chien

In a surprising turn, the Palo Alto High School varsity boys’ volleyball team (1-5) edged out the Los Gatos Wildcats (2-4), 3-2, Wednesday night at home.

According to Paly senior libero Nathaniel Ibuyan, the Vikings lost badly to the Wildcats earlier this season, and the result of this match was unexpected.

“We played this team [Los Gatos] earlier this season, and we got swept in three,” Ibuyan said. “It was really fun to play them to five, and I was expecting to lose as a lot of the teams in our league are tough.”

According to Wildcats head coach Brynja Thompson, despite the gloomy weather, both teams went into the game with high energy and spirits.

“We were all confident for sure,” Thompson said. “We all like playing volleyball, so why not feel great even if it’s pouring rain outside.”

The Vikings had a promising start in the first set, taking a 9-4 lead after two aces from Ibuyan and some decisive tips. The Vikings maintained this lead with their high energy, which was evident through their friendly chatter between points. After playing solid defense with double blocks and some well-placed spikes, the Vikings closed the set out dominantly, 25-12. 

The second set began much closer than the first, with the Vikings and the Wildcats staying neck-and-neck up to 11-11. The Wildcats then sped ahead thanks to some fast spikes and a bit of miscommunication from among the Vikings. The Vikings let their guard down a little, allowing the Wildcats to obtain a series of kills, which ended the set in their favor, 19-25.

The Wildcats took early control of the third set, with Los Gatos taking a similar position to the Vikings in the first set. The Vikings struggled to pick their game back up, with the Wildcats taking an early 8-15 lead thanks to Viking errors and creative plays by Wildcat setter Riley Nguyen. Paly caught back up after a morale-boosting timeout to 21-21, but solid Wildcat defense ended the set in their favor, 21-25.

According to Viking head coach Ed Yeh, the Wildcats upped their game in this set.

“They really picked up their game to another level,” Yeh said. “Serving harder and hitting harder starting the third set.”

By the time the fourth set rolled around, both teams were still battling with the fierce mentality they had at the start. The Vikings gained a short lead in the beginning, and held on to it by capitalizing on the Wildcats’ mistakes and playing tremendous defense. Sophomore opposite hitter Arun Tamura hit some powerful kills, and the Vikings’ lead just kept growing and growing until they finally finished off the set, 25-16.

The final set rolled in with a fresh wave of motivation from spectators and teams alike. The Vikings and Wildcats were even in points, with each team scoring from strong kills. Multiple costly moments of indecision for the Wildcat defense led the Vikings to a lead, which outside hitter Julian Hong took advantage of, threading kills through the walls of double blockers. A final strong block from Hong ended the fifth set for a Viking win, 15-11.

According to Yeh, the highlight of the game for him was the Vikings’ defense.

“Lots of little things don’t go up on highlights, so our hitters or setters always gets glory,” Yeh said. “But I think our blocking really helped us out at the end.”

Thompson said that volleyball is a ride of emotions, which is something that makes the fifth set stand out.

“A lot of sports have a lot of ebb and flow. Sometimes you’re high, and sometimes you’re low,” Thompson said. “It’s those ups and downs that make fifth sets so fun, and they’re pretty much why you play volleyball.”

However, Thompson acknowledged the effects emotions have on such a momentum-driven sport like volleyball. 

“When you’re up and down it’s really hard to play your physical game. It’s something we’re working on as a team; to be more focused and level-minded while keeping the fun,” Thompson said. “But it was a great back and forth match. Paly brought a really, really good team forward tonight, and we gave it our all as well.”

According to Yeh, the team needs to continue working on their volleyball game sense in future practices.

“We have to read what they’re trying to do and counter it,” Yeh said. “There’s always going to be a weakness on defense. We have to see what weakness they’re giving us and learn to exploit those defenses.”

The Vikings will face the King’s Academy Knights (2-5) at noon on Friday at home.