Men's Volleyball year in review: strong script, unhappy ending

The 2016 Santa Monica College Corsairs men’s volleyball season reads like a film script. After reaching the state championship the past two years — losing in 2014 and winning the title last year — the team had to band together under a new coach to carry on the legacy of blood and thunder they inherited, and defend the team's title.

In the movie version of their season, the team would get off to a rocky start, find a way to overcome obstacles and win the title.

While the regular season followed that script, the postseason would deviate, with the Corsairs' season ending at the hands of the Orange Coast College Pirates, confirming the fact that we live in reality and not in a movie.

And yet, in the fashion of modern Hollywood, this ending is the perfect set up for a sequel.

Much like the team of 2014, the majority of the 2016 team's rotation mainstays will return. In fact, that's not the only way the most recent volleyball team resembles the 2014 squad.

A large group of freshmen carried both teams to the final weekend of the season. In 2014, the freshmen mixed with the leadership of the upperclassmen brought them to the final game of the season. What does this mean?

In 2014, with six sophomores on the team, and four in the regular rotation, the team was precise and quick but fell short to a superior Orange Coast College Pirate team.

In 2016, what was once a group of fresh-faced youngsters matured into a formidable, if flawed, unit.

The flaws of youth showed whenever the team faced an opponent of equal or better measure. In both meetings against the eventual state champion Long Beach Vikings, the Corsairs committed 23 errors. Against the second place finisher, Orange Coast, they committed 21 errors in their pre-conference meeting, and 34 in the playoff ousting.

Here is where the 2014 team was markedly better. That edition of the blue and white had six games of more than 20 errors on the entire season, and only one game north of 30 errors while the 2016 group went above 20 errors 15 times and over 30 on four occasions.

Going into next year, the team will be without its locker room leader and decision maker on the court, Joseph Mayer, who was responsible for over 92 percent of the Corsairs' assists in the regular season.

It will also lose one of its most thunderous front line players in Max Nua. Though he was fourth on the team in kills — attacks that are not returned by the opposing team — with 92, simply having the sophomore outside hitter step to the backline changed the tenor of many games, with him scoring 22 service aces on the year, second only to Mayer.

Fortunately, the Corsairs already have multiple options to take on the role of the powerful match changer in their other outside hitters Richard Yu and Roscoe Nelms.

Yu lead the state in kills with 292, and was the most efficient player in the state posting a 4.56 kill per set average. Like Nua, Yu can start a rally with a spiking serve, and also demonstrated a tough float serve in the first playoff game against San Diego Mesa.

Nelms could blossom into the role of captain with a quiet demeanor and efficient play, posting a 3.06 kills per set rate. However, Nelms and Yu will have to clean up their mistakes on the score sheet after committing 110 and 136 errors respectively.

The biggest factor in the Corsairs' 2017 success will be the availability of middle blocker Junchen “Paddy” Pan. In 2016, the “old man,” as his coach calls him, was only available for nine matches due to recurring problems with his lower back.

In those nine games, Pan recorded 50 kills and 19 blocks, and forced the offenses on the opposite side of the net to work the ball around him. While to extrapolate stats from such a small sample size is irresponsible, it is fair to conclude that if Pan is able to expand his role for the blue and white next season, he can take the team to new heights.

To close the book on the 2016 volleyball season, one must recognize that satisfaction is a product of expectations.

At the beginning of this season, the Corsairs were a team of almost unknown players with a coach taking his first college head coaching job. In a vacuum, a playoff appearance would be considered a playoff surprise. But due to the added weight of a title defense, their ideal script would have ended with a better result.

By being eliminated in the semifinals, coach Metichecchia and his men fell short of their cinematic expectations, but put on a promising display, suggesting the possibility of an ongoing franchise.

Next year, it will be up to them to decide whether the sequel will be The Godfather 2 or Spiderman 3.