MOUNTAIN VIEW — Aptos High’s ultimate goal of reaching a CIF Northern California championship game is still a possibility.
Accomplishing that might make Saturday’s result a little more palatable.
The top-seeded Mariners came up short of winning the program’s first-ever Central Coast Section championship, falling to No. 2 Branham High, 26-24, 25-14, 29-27 in the Division II final at St. Francis-Mountain View.
The Mariners (27-5) hung tough with the taller and more athletic Bruins (24-4), but suffered a pair of heart-wrenching defeats in the first and third sets that ultimately sunk their championship bid.
The outright Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League champions held a 24-23 lead in the opening set, and shook off five match points in the third. But they couldn’t deny the wiry Branham attack down the stretch on either occasion.
It was about as close as a three-set sweep could get.
“We definitely fought back — it was fun,” said Aptos senior setter Michael Spinelli. “We didn’t go down without a fight.”
They’ll hope that resolve can carry over during their lengthy layover.
As a CCS finalist, Aptos automatically advances to the CIF NorCal playoffs, but it will have to wait more than a week to find out who and where it will play. The brackets will be released on May 20, and the quarterfinal matches are scheduled for May 22.
“I definitely think all our guys should keep their heads up and just get ready for NorCal,” Spinelli said. “Our season is not over yet.”
The upcoming week of practice will mark the first time Aptos has had its full squad together in a couple of weeks.
Head coach Jacob Landel missed Saturday’s section final because he was attending his sister’s wedding in New York. And star senior outside hitter Kacey Losik missed the better half of the SCCAL tournament the week before because he was playing in the FIVB Huntington Beach Open.
Second-year assistant coach Chayton Clark filled in for Landel on Saturday.
“It just seems to be a curse right now,” Clark said. “Every time something big is coming up, something happens. Hopefully in NorCal it’ll come together. If we win that, I’ll take it.”
Even without their coach, the Mariners kept it together through the ups and the downs.
Aptos trailed 14-7 in the first set, but battled back into the match behind its defense before a pair of late errors stopped their rally.
The second set, however, was all Branham.
Bruins junior setter Benjamin Brigham picked apart the Mariners’ defense with precision passes to his explosive teammates. Junior outside hitter Cole Gillis took full advantage of a discombobulated Aptos frontline by hammering down several kills, while junior outside hitters Dylan Staud and Bryan Cash kept the Mariners guessing on the other side.
And yet, even when Aptos buckled down and played its signature scrappy defense, the Bruins’ frontline had its way with the Mariners’ hitters. Branham senior middle blocker Brandon Anders and junior middle hitter Luke Sayre teamed up to form a near impenetrable wall at the net.
Aptos did much better in the third set, but not even a late M.V.P.-like performance from Losik could stop the Branham sweep.
“I told the guys ‘we’re just going on a Saturday to play a volleyball game,’” said Branham head coach Heather Cooper. “Nothing special about it. Just go out there, play volleyball and have fun with it.”
Losik had 14 kills, five digs and one block. Notari added six kills, junior Jackson Shirley finished with five kills and two blocks and Spinelli made 28 assists.
“I felt like they dealt with the pressure pretty well, but every time they got knocked down, they got kicked again,” Clark said, “They did battle and I’m proud of that.
“It’s an unfortunate end to a CCS final, but we still have NorCals to look forward to.”