NORWALK — It there was one area of concern for Laguna Beach High boys' volleyball Coach Darren Utterback this week, it was at what level of motivation his Breakers would have as they began the CIF Southern California Regional Division III boys' volleyball championship tournament.
His team was coming off a close, five-set loss to Esperanza in the CIF Southern Section Division 2 title match May 24, and Utterback knew his squad would need time to mend.
"When you play a team like Esperanza, and you are right there [to winning], I knew it would take the kids time to work through that loss," he said. "When they came into practice on Monday, they were down. I knew it would take a little time for them to works things out."
Although Utterback felt his team still felt that his team was a little out of sync in regional wins over Long Beach Rancho Dominguez Tuesday, and Torrance Bishop Montgomery Thursday, he thought his Breakers played with purpose Saturday.
Laguna, the top seed in the tournament, captured its fourth Division III regional championship by defeating No. 3-seeded Saddleback Valley Christian, 25-13, 25-15, 23-25, 25-11, at Cerritos College.
"It's nice," Utterback said of returning to the same court that his team lost to Esperanza on a week earlier, and leave with a regional championship plaque. "I'm proud of our guys and what they did tonight."
The Breakers (27-6) cruised to easy wins, opening up double-digit leads early in each, in the first two sets. They appeared to be on their way to a sweep of the Warriors, who last week won the CIF-SS Division 5 title, but let a 9-4 lead slip away in the third set.
Saddleback Valley Christian, playing in its first regional final, rallied to catch Laguna at 11-11 in the fourth set. The Breakers went back into the lead at 12-11 on a kill by senior middle blocker Noah Blanton, but the Warriors scored the next seven points to surge to an 18-12 lead.
The Warriors were a point away from set point (24-19) when Laguna staged a late rally. A big drop down the middle by Blanton brought the Breakers to within 24-23 but the comeback fizzled when a Laguna shot sailed long, giving the Warriors a 25-23 win.
The setback turned out to be minor as the Breakers returned to the form they displayed to start the match.
"When we huddled up after the third set, I didn't have to say anything to our guys," Utterback said. "They were pretty mad and determined to get back to playing the way they had been playing.
"We left the door open in the third game, and they took advantage of that."
Laguna shut the door on the Warriors right from the start of the fourth set.
A couple of early kills by senior outside hitter Jake Hexberg got the Breakers off to a 3-1 start. The lead grew to 8-2 on a kill down the middle by sophomore middle blocker Tyler Alter. After a serving error by the Breakers got Saddleback Valley Christian to within 11-7, they proceeded to go on a 7-0 run to move out to an 18-7 lead.
Laguna wrapped up the regional title when senior setter Alec Wulff set up senior outside hitter Jack Wyett who delivered a kill straight down the middle to complete a 25-11 victory.
Three Breakers finished in double-digits in kills led by Wyett with 19. Blanton had 16 kills and Hexberg 15. Wyett also had four block assists and one solo block, and nine digs. Junior opposite Jack Burgi had eight kills, senior setter JP Wollam 24 digs and Hexberg and senior outside hitter Lucas Capobianco each had 10 digs.
The Breakers received contributions across the board, and Utterback was pleased to see seniors Troy Thomas and Zack Bekken get playing time.
Thomas, a setter, finished the first and second sets, Bekken, the fourth set.
"The one thing that really made me happy was that those two guys got to play," Utterback said. "Troy and Zach are the spirit in our practices, and I'm glad that they got playing time."
Laguna has played in the regional Division III championship match four of the six years of the tournament which started up in 2009. The Breakers, who were playing in their first division final since the end of the 2011 season, won the first three (2009, 2010, 2011) division titles.