A trip to the CIF Southern Section Division 4 finals was oh so close, yet oh so far for the Windward School boys volleyball team.
The Wildcats didn't have to travel far for their semifinal match Tuesday, only a few miles up the road from campus. Top-seeded Santa Monica and its raucous fans, however, made the trip even shorter.
Windward played gritty, tough volleyball for four sets but in the end the host Vikings had too much firepower, winning 25-21, 22-25, 25-20, 25-20, to end the Wildcats' remarkable playoff run one match short of Cypress College.
"We did not play our best game, but that team is very good," Windward setter Chase Pion said. "It's disappointing to lose, but we left it all on the court."
Pion had 30 assists and nine kills, Ryan Manoogian had 11 kills and fve digs and Miles Gueno added 10 kills for Windward, which reached the CIF semifinals for just the third time in school history.
"They are a very good defensive team and they made adjustments to what we did the first two games," Pion said. "We know a lot of their players so it was a pretty intense match."
Windward led 18-16 in the first set before Samo used a 6-2 run to take control. In the second set, Samohi had a 18-17 lead before the fourth-seeded Wildcats (17-5) scored four straight points to take command. The Vikings pulled even at 21-21 before Windward closed out the set on a stuff block by Peter Gutman.
Samo (22-11) showed its resolve in the crucial third set, using a 6-1 run to take a 22-17 lead. Outside hitter Charles Levy's uncontested kill down the line brought the Vikings to set point, and they took a two-sets-to-one lead on a roof. Levy had several thunderous spikes that fired up the home crowd and his teammates.
"He's our captain, he's the man," Samo libero Cody O'Connell said of Levy. "He's our emotional leader, the heart of our team. He gets us pumped up, and we feed off his energy."
In the fourth set, Samo used a 7-2 run to take a 21-16 lead. Windward closed to within 21-19 before Levy's crosscourt kill restored order and the Vikings closed out the match with a two-man stuff block on Gutman four points later.
Samo shored up its defense in the last two sets, protecting the middle of the court to guard against the quick sets and dumps of Pion.
"We saw he was doing that, and we had to make sure we had that play covered," O'Connell said. "The run we put on at the end of the third [set] was a huge momentum builder."
Santa Monica will play second-seeded San Gabriel for the championship Saturday at 4 p.m. at Cypress College.