Pirates sweep past El Camino to capture state title

Pirates sweep past El Camino to capture state title

WOODLAND HILLS -- The final point of the season, the point that etched the Orange Coast College men's volleyball team into the record books as the 2017 state champions, perfectly answered any final questions as to why this team was so successful ... teamwork, togetherness and tenacity.

It may go down as a kill by Jordan Hoppe to cap off Saturday night's 25-21, 25-21, 25-21 win over El Camino in the finals of the California Community College Athletic Association Men's Volleyball State Championship, but the beauty of this team goes way beyond the final result.

With Coast up 24-21 and looking for its seventh men's volleyball state title and first since 2014, it started with a laser jump-serve off the arm of 5-foot-9 defensive specialist Chase Moothart. His serve pushed the Warriors (12-8) onto their heels and their kill attempt was quickly blocked back by the combination of Austin Marriott and Colby Elder (26 assists). ECC managed to return the ball back over, but a pass from Jacob Gilliam to Elder found its way to Hoppe and the State Tournament MVP, the MVP of the Orange Empire Conference and the OCC Male Athlete of the Year buried his final kill attempt of the his Pirate career and finished the night with 16 kills and five digs.

One play ... five different Coast players making a contribution ... the perfect recipe for a 21-1 record, a 20-match winning streak and a permanent mark in the OCC history books.

"I've got a lot of emotions going on right now ... this was a win we wanted to get not only for this team, but for OCC teams in the past that didn't quite get there," Hoppe said. "Tonight was a total team effort. We were able to spread our offense around and our setters did a fantastic job of moving the ball to different hitters, which leads to lots of single-man blocks. If you're able to get that, you're going to find a lot of success out there."

Six different OCC players chipped into the Pirates' 50 kills and incredible .469 hitting percentage on the night, including Justin Kam (11 kills), Matt Ujkic (eight kills), Marriott (six kills, no errors, .857 hitting percentage), Zane Moothart (five kills) and Bradley Hankus (four kills). 

"For two years in a row, I've had tears on this court and believe me, it's so much better to cry happy than it is to cry sad," Ujkic, a member of last year's state runner-up team said after the match. "Since we lost here last year, we had eight months to prepare for this season and this year, we didn't feel like we were picked as one of the favorites so we really got after it as a team. We put in the hard work, we switched things up a bit in our lineup and everything began to click."

For Hoppe, it's the sweetest of endings to a career filled with ups and a few downs along the way. After not being able to compete with his Pirate teammates in the 2016 semifinal and state title matches due to an eligibility issue, the Greendale, WI native made it his mission to help get his team back to the title match.

"Getting back here was definitely my prime motivation," Hoppe said. "I didn't like the way 2016 ended and I really wanted to win this match, not only for our team, but for that team as well. This school really has raised me up from being a boy to a man and it's been the greatest experience I could've asked for. Coach Travis (Turner) and the staff have been so great to me, it's been an unbelievable journey."

For Turner, seeing Hoppe slam the ball down for the final point of the match was the perfect ending. "This is was community college is all about and this is why OCC is the best place for a kid like Jordan," Turner said. "He needed time to figure things out and we were able to give him that time to him and look at him now. It's the perfect type of success story a player can have at this level."

As for the ECC Warriors (12-8), a team that was seeded seventh and promptly knocked out the Nos. 2 and 3 teams (Irvine Valley and Long Beach) to advance to the final, their magical run collided head-first into a Pirate team that just would not be denied. PJ Tulikihihifo led ECC with 13 kills, while Cesar Medina added 12 and Christopher Phanngam chipped in 10.

Coast led 14-10 in the opening set before ECC ripped off four straight points and grabbed momentum, but the Pirates wouldn't let the Warriors have their fun for long.

Leading 18-17, OCC used a 4-0 run of its own to grab control of the opening set, thanks to kills by Zane Moothart, Ujkic and Kam. From there, Coast took care of business and won the opening set.

"El Camino is a good team, but we just needed to focus on ourselves and take of the things we knew how to do," Kam said. "It's easy to get pumped up for a state championship match and the guys were ready to go tonight."

The Pirates jumped all over the Warriors early in the second set and led, 10-4, thanks to two kills by Hoppe, two kills by Kam, single put-aways by Marriott and Hankus and a trio of assisted blocks by Hankus and Zane Moothart.

Any ECC run was answered by a run by the Pirates as the Warriors, a team driven by emotion and momentum caused by big runs, could not get the jump-start they needed.

Coast made three unforced errors late in the second set which allowed ECC to get to within three at 20-17, but from there, the Pirates went to work and earned enough side-out points to get them a 25-21 win and a 2-0 lead in the match.

In the third set, OCC led throughout, but the Warriors stayed within 2-3 points the entire time. A key ace by Jaden Misaalefua pulled the Warriors to within a point at 21-20, but a net serve and a Kam kill pushed the Pirates ahead, 23-20. ECC got the next point, but from there, Hoppe buried his final two chances to end the match and give the Pirates their 89th overall state team championship.

"I love the heart of this team," Turner said. "It wasn't always pretty, but these guys are fighters and they did what they had to do to get it done. Every player, from No. 1 to 16, was on the same page all season and they all were working for the same goal and pulling for each other. In addition to the players, my assistant coaches (McKay Smith, Vince Rodriguez, Mike d'Alessandro) did an outstanding job with these players all year and they deserve a ton of credit as well."

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