Long Beach Poly Volleyball Wilson

Girls’ Volleyball: Wilson Win Creates Tie Atop Moore League With Long Beach Poly

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The562’s coverage of Long Beach Wilson Athletics is sponsored by Joel Bitonio, Class of 2009.

One of the reasons high school sports are so intense is familiarity. The relationships with opposing coaches and players are always a factor, and that was the case on Tuesday evening at Wilson.

All Long Beach Poly needed was a win to clinch the Moore League girls’ volleyball title, but the host Bruins had different ideas and joined the Jackrabbits atop the league standings with a 25-22, 18-25, 25-21, 25-13 victory. Both teams only have one league loss which came against each other.

Wilson came into the game extra motivated because Poly coach Gerald Aquiningoc was the Bruins’ coach last year.

“We didn’t want him coming in here and winning so we made sure that we did everything we could so that he didn’t,” Wilson senior Chloe Pravednikov said.

Pravednikov put down a match-high 17 kills to go with 10 digs and five aces.

“With these girls coming in second the past two years, this meant a lot of them to at least have a share (of league title) especially since Gerald is their old coach,” Wilson coach Chris Ceballos said. “They wanted to make sure he’s not the only one who gets a little bit of that title because he has a lot to do with this as well. It means everything.”

Aquiningoc also played a big role in the turning point of the fourth set when a controversial play went Wilson’s way, and then he was given a red card for dissent. The play was initially ruled a Poly point off the block, but changed after much discussion. After more than five minutes, the match started again as the Bruins proceeded to close the match on a 14-5 run.

“We didn’t play our best today,” Aquiningoc said. “Our passing broke down. (We) haven’t played this way in awhile. “It’s good for us going into the playoffs knowing what we need to work on.”

The first time these teams played in the middle of September, Poly won thanks to great scramble points while Wilson struggled to find the right role for Babi Gubbins. She hadn’t played since last season at Mater Dei, and the transfer had only played a few games with the Bruins before that loss at Poly.

Gubbins proved to be the difference on Tuesday as she filled the stat box with 21 digs, 14 kills, three aces and two blocks. At a key moment in the third set she put down three consecutive kills to give her team a lead.

“It’s especially been the in-game reps because you can’t really replicate in-game in practice,” Gubbins said of her growth with this team. “The more games I played the more I connected with the setters.”

“We played a lot of tough competition in Las Vegas and the Redondo tournament, and that allowed us to see what (Gubbins) can do in a game situation,” Ceballos said. “She’s been incredible for us. Her passing is terrific, which allows the setter to get her good balls.”

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Poly had a balanced attack with six players putting down at least three kills. Freshman Cedra Talaga,  junior Saniya Kimbrough and junior Kristen Dear all had seven kills. Talaga chipped in three blocks and three aces. Two of those aces came in the first set to give the Jackrabbits an early lead.

Aces from Pravednikov and Gubbins got Wilson back into the set, and Gubbins’ kill broke a 21-21 tie. A key Poly service error and another Pravednikov ace clinched the set 25-22. Wilson had 10 aces.

“Our serving really determines how well we do,” Gubbins said. “When we can keep our serves in, that minimizes our own errors. That’s really what gets us, our own errors.”

Wilson jumped out to an 8-2 lead on a block from Kate VanderWal, but Poly used some great defense keyed by senior libero Taylor Mercado to come back and tie it 12-12. The Jackrabbits then went on a 7-2 run to close out the set 25-18 thanks to smart kills from Emma Holder and Kalia Teofilo.

The third set was the closest all evening with six ties until the three consecutive kills from Gubbins. That forced Poly to call a timeout while the Bruins kept their cool, and Gubbins broke another tie at 19-19 with a kill. Pravednikov had a pair of kills after that to clinch the set 25-21.

It was clear Wilson was the more composed side in that set, and in the fourth when the controversial call gave the Bruins an 11-8 lead. After the long delay to make that call and fix the scoreboard, Pravednikov calmly put down a kill to spark the set and match winning 14-5 run.

“I think they kind of got thrown off but we had to make sure to get our serves in and finish strong,” Pravednikov said. “They were kind of in their heads and that was our time to go off.”

Ceballos said the composure shown by his team is a reflection of the leadership from Pravednikov and Gubbins.

“When the fire gets going (Pravednikov) doesn’t overheat, she just stays chill.,” Ceballos said. “That allows us to be balanced and her personality has allowed us to stay in tough competition.”

“We are almost the same person in that way,” Gubbins said of her and Pravednikov. “We try to keep everything mellow so our team isn’t too crazy at times. A lot of pressure can lead to high highs and low lows. We just try to keep things level.”

Wilson and Poly finish the regular season on Thursday when they play fourth-place Lakewood and last-place Compton, respectively. Two wins will give the Bruins and Jackrabbits each a share of the league championship.

VIDEO: Wilson vs. Long Beach Poly, Girls’ Volleyball
PHOTOS: Long Beach Poly vs. Wilson, Girls’ Volleyball
JJ Fiddler
JJ Fiddler is an award-winning sportswriter and videographer who has been covering Southern California sports for multiple newspapers and websites since 2004. After attending Long Beach State and creating the first full sports page at the Union Weekly Newspaper, he has been exclusively covering Long Beach prep sports since 2007.