Intensity was not the issue for the Peninsula boys volleyball team.
Playing in its first CIF Southern Section final, the Panthers were amped to chase down history.
The challenge was trying to harness it.
“I just thought we were nervous. We had a lot of energy, but not a lot of focus. So we had a lot of errors in the first set,” Peninsula’s Akin Akinwumi said.
Peninsula settled down and roared back for an 18-25, 25-18, 25-12, 27-25 victory over Quartz Hill in the Division 3 final on Saturday at Cerritos College to bring home the program’s first crown.
Finally the Panthers could release that pent-up energy.
Peninsula players charged the court to celebrate, hoisted the championship plaque with some gusto during the trophy presentation and posed for a bevy of photos with teammates, coaches, family, friends and fans.
“I’m trying to process it – it feels surreal,” Akinwumi said.
The celebration was raw and spontaneous.
“I didn’t know what to do – it just feels super awesome,” Peninsula’s Clarke Godbold said, soaking in the moment. “It shows how hard we’ve been working and how we came together.”
Quartz Hill (34-8) came out blazing in the first set, taking advantage of a slew of unforced errors by Peninsula.
The Long Beach State-bound Godbold and the Pepperdine-bound Akinwumi took over in the final three sets, staking Peninsula (24-13) to massive leads. Godbold had 19 kills and Akinwumi had 16 kills.
Quartz Hill rallied from a 19-13 deficit in the fourth set and fought off two championship points to nearly force a fifth set.
“I’m just proud of my team,” Quartz Hill setter Zac Conte said. “We came out strong and we finished strong. In between, things did not go our way. But we never gave up, and that’s all you can really ask for.”
Peninsula coach Kevin Williams said he wore a shirt to Friday’s practice that read, “Do Your Job.”
Williams reminded his team about that message after the first set, which included seven hitting errors, six serving errors and a ton of mental mistakes.
Peninsula was able to reset and re-focus. Setter Ethan Colin continued to choose the correct hitters and Matt Lee, Tanner Johnson and Elijah Riley also sparked the offense.
“It was just nerves,” WIlliams said of the first set.
Peninsula had shown its resiliency throughout the season after going 2-6 in the rugged Bay League.
“We had a lot of ups and downs this season, but we came alive late in the season and especially the playoffs,” WIlliams said. “We were really lucky to have such a talented team, and it showed today.”
Nathan Merren led Quartz Hill with 19 kills and eight digs, including a pair of massive swings to fend off two championship points in the fourth set.
Carlos Centeno had six kills. Sartag Brar had five kills, Conte had 31 assists and six digs and Miles Kanga had eight digs as well.
Quartz Hill boasted several players who had older sisters with CIF postseason experience. Madison Conte – the older sister of Zac – and Megan Taflinger – the older sister of Nolan Taflinger and Aaron Taflinger — had advanced to four consecutive semifinals during their tenure.
“Madison said to play our hearts out and have fun, and I think we did that,” Conte said.