The Wilson Bruins looked like a team on a mission during Saturday night’s CIF-SS Division 3 semifinal match against visiting Foothill. The Bruins controlled the match with their service game and rode their two best hitters to an assertive 25-19, 25-13, 25-11 victory over the visiting Knights, sending Wilson to the CIF Championship match next Saturday.
“I thought our guys were awesome tonight,” said Wilson head coach Jeremy Cook after the win. “It was really fun to watch. They were playing loose and they were having fun. And we’ve been eyeing the CIF Championship game since the very beginning, so it’s super exciting.”
Wilson got 14 kills apiece from junior Leo Pravednikov and senior Payne Lounsbery. Pravednikov also added four aces and three blocks in the match while Lounsbery chipped in three aces of his own. Senior Fletcher Garrett had six kills for Wilson and sophomore Max Cherin was in on three blocks.
As a team, the Bruins racked up 11 aces on the night and made it difficult for the Knights’ offense to get untracked.
“I thought the mix of our jump servers and our float servers kind of kept them off balance the whole night,” Cook said. “So yeah, I definitely think the serve game helped us.”
After sweeping their first 10 opponents of the season, Wilson was pushed to five sets during its quarterfinal match at Westlake on Wednesday. That served as a bit of a wake-up call to the Bruins, who appeared to be re-energized and re-focused during Saturday’s semifinal.
“Being that close to defeat in our last game, it kind of showed us that it could be wiped away from us that quickly,” admitted Pravednikov. “So going into this game, we just went in strong. We knew that we had to put pressure on from the beginning, and that’s what we did.”
Wilson went to Lounsbery early in the match, getting four kills from the senior in the team’s first eight points of the night. He was also instrumental in a 9-1 Wilson run to turn a 16-15 lead into a commanding 23-16 edge during the opening set.
That momentum spilled over into set two, where the Bruins took a commanding 15-5 lead out of the gate. During that stretch, Pravednikov racked up four kills, two blocks and two aces to keep Wilson firmly in command. The lead never got below eight points as the Bruins easily took a 2-0 lead.
A 10-1 run early in the third game made it clear that Wilson was headed for another sweep. Sophomore middle Max Cherin had two kills and a block during that run to give the Bruins an extra lift. Wilson then won the final five points of the match to sprint to the finish line, capping it on an ace by Braden Pool-Harris.
“Last year we had our season taken away from us, and that was really hard,” Lounsbery said. “Since September we’ve had this mindset, we’ve set our goals, and to see it happen now is amazing. It kind of feels more like a brotherhood at this point. I look at every guy and I love everyone on my team. I feel like everyone says that sort of affection for each other. So when someone else is doing hot, we’re all doing hot. And that’s the kind of mindset and mentality we have. It’s really amazing.”
Wilson will get a week to prepare for its next opponent, St Francis. The Golden Knights defeated Long Beach Poly in the other Division 3 semifinal on Saturday, 25-23, 25-22, 21-25, 25-17.
The coin flip for hosting privileges landed in Wilson’s favor, meaning the Bruins will host the CIF Championship match next Saturday at 6 p.m. in their own gym.
“God, that is like my dream right there,” Lounsbery said. “That’s amazing. Everyone on our team is excited, and we’re ready to win it.”