Just a few months ago, nobody in the Wilson boys’ volleyball program had any answers. They didn’t know if there was going to be a season, they didn’t know if their school was going to open to students this year, and they certainly had no idea whether or not there would be any CIF Southern Section playoffs.
On Saturday night in Wilson’s gym, the Bruins had all the answers. Their historic, undefeated team continued its magical run by winning the program’s first-ever CIF-SS title, claiming the Division 3 crown with a thrilling win over St. Francis in front of a roaring crowd, 25-13, 25-14, 20-25, 26-24.
“We were hopeful, and basically that’s all we had was hope,” said Wilson coach Jeremy Cook. “We were meeting in September and just telling them, let’s stay ready because we have a special group. Let’s just stay ready and cross our fingers. So we heard we might get something, then we heard we might get a league season. And at every point we were happy because it was better than nothing. And then we heard we’d get a full CIF playoffs. We’ve had our eyes set on this moment from the beginning, but it’s unbelievable that it actually got to happen.”
The championship, which is the 64th CIF-SS title for Wilson High, seemed firmly in hand from almost the first point. The Bruins jumped out to a 14-2 lead in the first set before winning it 25-13, and led comfortably throughout the second frame as well. St. Francis was able to set the middle more often and find some holes in the Wilson block in the third set, which they took 25-20.
It was in the fourth set where the large crowd of 500 fans really felt the drama, with the Bruins and Golden Knights knotted most of the way, until St. Francis began to pull away late, taking a 23-20 lead. But Wilson senior Payne Lounsbery had three kills and a huge block to tie it at 24, and then the Bruins took the last two points to seal the match and the championship.
“They were making some amazing defensive plays in the third set,” said Lounsbery. “Ball that would normally drop weren’t dropping. Kudos to them for never giving up the fight–but we had them and that was the mentality, you know, ‘We got this.’”
Lounsbery had a sensational match with 27 kills, three blocks, and an ace. Wilson’s star hitter, junior Leo Pravednikov, had 17 kills, a block, and two aces, with an unusually high tally of six hitting errors.
“We’ve wanted this so much, and to get a game and to get it at home was really great,” said Pravednikov. “We have all our friends here, all our family.”
Pravednikov said the Bruins talked throughout the fourth set about not letting the match slip into a winner-take-all fifth set, where anything could happen.
“We knew we didn’t want that fifth set, so we had to pull our energy and our bond and push each other to get that fourth set,” he said.
Setter Bryce Lowery did his usual excellent job of spreading the ball around, and Fletcher Garrett had 10 kills and four blocks in the match as well. Lowery had 57 assists, a block, and an ace. He said the Bruins were buoyed by the vociferous home crowd.
“Props to the St. Francis crowd, they were loud,” he said. “But I felt like our crowd took it today. They were crazy, and we really feed off that energy especially on big kills.”
Wilson has been excellent passing the ball, and setting/hitting in a tempo offense, but on Saturday they added in an imposing block, with 10 team blocks. Freshman Ian Nolte had six blocks in the middle, and Max Cherin added in another three.
The magical run for the Wilson team isn’t over. The Bruins will compete in the CIF State Regional playoffs next week, with matches on Tuesday and Thursday, and a championship Saturday–most likely, the Bruins will be the top seed in Division 3 and all three of those matches will be at home.
That’s next week’s schedule, though. The only thing left on the list of questions to ask Saturday was how the Bruins were going to celebrate.
“It’s unbelievable, it feels so good,” said Cook. “There’s just a big sense of relief for me because I wanted it for these guys so badly. I’m just so happy for them that they got to experience this.”