Olympians men’s volleyball stuns Vaqueros with reverse sweep in playoffs


Outside hitter Isaack Grant rises for the kill as two Vaquero blockers jump for an attempted block. Photo Credit: Andres Armenta/The Mesa Press.

Clay Fordham, Sports Editor

All tied up at four in the fifth set of a SoCal regional playoff matchup, the Olympians men’s volleyball team was looking to pull off the unthinkable. After being down 2-0 in sets, Mesa had battled back the winner-takes-all stage.

The first playoff win in program history stood elusive, yet it created the opportunity for this team to etch their names in Mesa lore. 

A point was awarded to Mesa after a red card was given to a Santa Barbara City College player. As the Vaquero’s player pleaded his case to the head official, the excitement in the building grew larger.

Over the course of the last three sets, momentum began to slowly turn in the Olympians’ favor, and home-court advantage began to creep into play. 

The Mesa faithful brought the energy and support that makes a playoff atmosphere special. The loud claps and stomping in the bleachers were synchronized with whatever the team’s bench produced, but silence would arise once the ball was served. 

Pivotal points were up for grabs with two seasons lying in the balance. 

That’s when Mesa’s opposite hitter Austin Kinnear elevated for a powerful kill on a right-side attack with a velocity that the Vaqueros player was unable to corral. He had been a problem for the opposition all night long. 

“I was really excited to play in this game,” Kinnear said. He followed with, “We’ve prepared all week, specifically, for their team.”

The Olympians never looked back. 

Three consecutive points grew their lead to 6-4 in the final set. Santa Barbara called a timeout to try and calm their players down. 

Coming out of the break, the Vaquero’s desperately needed to turn the tides, but middle blocker Ricardo Lorja had other plans as he imposingly blocked an opposing attack at the net. 

The team began to push the pace with the finish line well in site. The crowd in attendance was then brought to their feet for the match point, 14-9. 

That’s when the Friday night pandemonium ensued inside Mesa’s gym as the men’s volleyball team pulled off the improbable reverse sweep. The four-seeded Olympians knocked off the fifth-seeded Vaqueros. 

What had been slowly brewing over the course of the last three sets finally erupted.

Head coach David Proffitt’s joyful smile was accompanied by many others surrounding the Olympians program. Proffitt said, “[I] couldn’t be more proud of these guys. It’s been a long season, and to get the reverse sweep against a very good Santa Barbara team, it was really exciting for the guys.”

Coach Proffitt wasn’t exaggerating when he mentioned Santa Barbara is a – very – good team. The two squads faced off on Feb. 17, in a matchup that saw the Vaquero’s sweep the Olympians across three sets for Mesa’s second loss of the season, at that time. It’s safe to say there was some history between the two programs. 

“I kind of knew what spots I was aiming for, going against them,” Kinnear said about the familiarity between the teams. He was quick to share the credit with his teammates as he said, “Our setters were setting the middle and our outside, so I was getting a lot of open opportunities. I really have to give that one to my setters and passers.”

Mesa found themselves playing catch-up early as they lost their first set by a score of 25-17. It was out of character for this team to be on the other end of that score. Profitt said, “There’s no doubt that we came out tight. I knew we would get out of it. I was just hoping we’d get out of it soon enough [in order] to get in our rhythm, and once we did, we started cooking.”

The team never panicked after losing their second set by a gut-punching score of 26-24. Instead of falling down, they kept their composure and retaliated by taking the third set 25-20. In each of the first three sets, they continued to look better and better.

After forcing a fourth set, the Olympians were looking to even things up. Leaving no doubt of their plans, they jumped ahead to a 7-2 lead to open things up. The confidence in Santa Barbara’s play was visually fading. 

Mesa ended up driving the fourth set on cruise control as they won by a margin of 25-15, but that wasn’t any reason to let the foot off the gas. 

The two teams traded blows but someone had to give. 

In the end, the Olympians are the ones moving on with the chance to collect more hardware as they stunned Santa Barbara with a reverse sweep to win 3-2.

The dynamic outside-hitting duo of TJ Letuligasenoa and Kinnear propelled their team, but they were both quick to credit their setters who opened the opportunities for them to succeed. Kinnear wanted to let it be known how phenomenal of a player TJ is, but Letuligasenoa pointed his finger right back and said, “Austin came out the gate swinging, and that’s what set the tone for us.”

Hosting this game was big for the Olympians as coach Proffitt pointed out when he said, “We only played five home games this season because our bleachers were being installed. To have our bleachers here tonight with all of the fans and the support,” he paused for a second to search for words, and then said, “ I’ve never seen the gym this big and this packed before.”

With their SoCal Regional win, Mesa will travel up north to take on the powerhouse Long Beach City College program at the host El Camino College, April 27 at 7 p.m.