Grossmont boys’ volleyball underdogs make playoff run

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The rise and fall of the Grossmont boy’s volleyball playoff campaign embodies what is best loved of high school athletics: high hopes, a lot of heart, and the refusal to quit. 

Statistically, Grossmont should not have made it out of round one. The 11-seed Division-II team hit Montgomery, 6 seed, on Wednesday night, May 10, 2017, and simply refused to say ‘die.’ 

The rise and fall of the Grossmont boy’s volleyball playoff campaign embodies what is best loved of high school athletics: high hopes, a lot of heart, and the refusal to quit. 

Statistically, Grossmont should not have made it out of round one. The 11-seed Division-II team hit Montgomery, 6 seed, on Wednesday night, May 10, 2017, and simply refused to say ‘die.’ 

Stretching five rounds, with the final ending in a gut-wrenching 18-16, the Foothillers and the Aztecs volleyed as much on the scoreboard as they did on the squeaky gym floor. 

“It was an incredible match,” said Grossmont head coach Peter Phillips. “Both teams play with a ton of heart, they left everything on the court. We have so much respect for Montgomery and what they do.”

The Aztecs took the first round 25-16, and then lost to the Foothillers, 25-23. Grossmont’s high school community showed up in abundance to support the home team for their first playoff round and exemplified what it means to have home court advantage. The entire gym shook as the Boys in Blue worked their way into a narrow victory in the second set to balance the score. 

Montgomery came back to win round three 25-20 and Grossmont rallied once more to win the fourth set 25-23.

Tension, which was practically sweating from the walls, seemed to magnify the cries coming from Grossmont’s huge fan base and Montgomery’s smaller, but no less enthusiastic gaggle of supporters. Inching up one point at a time on either side, the final round kept coaches pacing and viewers on the edge of the bleachers. 

As if filmed for a Hollywood classic, cheered on by the frenzied crowd, the Foothillers closed the final set 18-16, giving them a sweet victory to savor before shoving off into the next round of playoffs. 

Foothillers team captain Connor Selander said it was a great game to win on home court. As for the sticky moments, he said, the team just refused to give up.

“My arm was pumping so much during the game,” said the Grossmont senior. “We just get through it and we stick together as a team. We take a second, we breathe, we all look at each other and we say, ‘We’re fine, we’ve got this.’”

Grossmont’s squad this season is special, said Phillips. With eleven seniors — the most Phillips has ever had in the program — the boys have demonstrated a unique bond, he said.

“From day one, the chemistry has been amazing and it has really shown all the way through,” said Phillips. “They’ve gotten stronger and stronger as the season has gone on, but what I like most about our team is that they never quit.” 

According to Phillips, the season has been unbelievable, considering the makeup of his team.

“We’re outsized,” he said. “I don’t have any club players, but these guys are really scrappy. They have a lot of fight in them, and they play so very well together.”

Perseverance may have won Grossmont a spectacular match in round one, but the week’s early high was not going to last forever. Eventually, the Foothillers had to step away from their win and face off with the next opponent, No. 3 seed, the University City Centurions. 

Phillips said he reminded the boys to put their hearts out there and leave them on the court.

“This is it for them,” he said. “This is their last opportunity. Most won’t go on to play at the next level. I told them you give it your best effort all the time, leave it all on the floor. Have no regrets, win or lose.”

So, with high hopes and undaunted spirits, the ragtag team of East County boys entered the polished courts of the Centurions on Saturday, May 13, to fight one last battle.

It was short, but it was fierce. University City may have taken the game 3-0, but Grossmont made sure they had to earn it.

At first, it seemed like the Foothillers might not ever get their stride, losing the first two sets 25-11 and 25-16. The Centurions, a large team with effective, efficient players, were naturally favored to win. But after scoring the first point of the third set and holding a four-point lead well into the teens, it almost seemed possible that the come-back boys might actually hold their own. With visible fervor, the Foothillers muscled their way up the scoreboard.

They fought until the very last point, when the final set wrapped up in University City’s favor, 25-23. 

“That’s probably one of the best teams we’ve seen in our division,” said Phillips. “We really struggled with their serving. We were literally served off the court.”

Despite walking away with a tough loss, Phillips said he was proud of his players.

“It was really good to see our guys come out in that third set,” he said. “We really took charge, we had it. A lot of teams would give up but we didn’t. We actually gave them a run there in that third set. Had we not missed a couple serves at the end, it may have had a different end, but I’m really proud of my guys for never giving up.”

Grossmont’s boys held their heads high as they met their opponents at the net following the final set. The season might be over, but Phillips says there is a lot to look forward to, especially for the few returners who will be joined by promising new players. 

“We’re excited about the future,” he said. “We have a really young, talented freshmen and sophomore group. They went undefeated this year, but they have big shoes to fill.”

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