Boys’ Volleyball: Loaded Loyola sweeps Mira Costa’s rebuild

Dillon Klein still thinks about the loss every day. Every. Singles. Day.

The moment repeats itself in the mind of the Los Angeles Loyola High volleyball star, who sits with his team in the locker room after losing to Manhattan Beach rival Mira Costa at last year’s regional championships.

“Damn, we couldn’t do this for you guys,” thought Klein, realizing that this would be the last time he would play with his older buddies.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever get over that,” said Klein, who is now a veteran outsider. “I guarantee I will tell this story to my children.”

Nine months later, the loss is still deep, and Klein and the Cubs had a Saturday showdown rematch with Mira Costa on their calendars.

“I just want to get out there and kick some butts,” Klein said.

A Mira Costa blocker protects his head as he turns away from a spike attempt by Loyolas Dillon Klein on March 18, 2022.

A blocker by Mira Costa protects his head as he steers away from a spike attempt by Loyola’s Dillon Klein at Loyola High on Saturday.

(Brody Hannon)

This year’s Mustangs are a completely different team trying to rebuild after 18 seniors retired from last year’s championship roster. Loyola earned some revenge on his home court with a 25-23, 25-19, 25-17 win over Mira Costa.

The Cubs brought back five starters from a team that won 18-3 in 2021 and set their sights high for the season to record an undefeated record and CIF regional and state titles.

After a loss to Redondo Union in the second game of the season and another in early March, tensions rose to the surface, head coach Michael Boehle said. Before a key game on March 12 against Newport Harbor, the team assembled in the gym for a closed meeting.

Returnees like Klein, UC Santa Barbara’s Owen Loncar and Princeton-signed Ryan Vena had one last season left, a shot at redemption. They asked their teammates for understanding at this meeting, said Boehle.

“I know a lot of the guys on the team are still – I won’t say marked – marked,” Klein said, “but we don’t forget what happened last year. That is a great motivation for us.”

A huge team hug at the end of this 30-minute gathering belied a week of dominant play. The Cubs hadn’t lost a set since March 8 before the showdown with Mira Costa.

Dustin Steinbeck, who usually plays as the opposing batsman in club volleyball, has been trying to catch up when the team’s libero knocked out the incumbent after an injury last season. Senior Michael Robertson is committed to UC San Diego but was on the bench for most of the season before an injury from Loncar saw him play.

Five Loyola players have completed Division I commitments. Another, sophomore Sean Kelly, is a top player in the Class of 2024. There’s an abundance of talent — and sometimes for players like Robertson, that’s had to come at sacrifices, Boehle said.

Loyola defenders take position as Mira Costa setter Jason Walmer makes a pass March 19, 2022 at Loyola High.

Loyola defenders take position as Mira Costa setter Jason Walmer makes a pass March 19, 2022 at Loyola High.

(Brody Hannon)

“That wasn’t accepted last year,” said Boehle. “They weren’t willing to sacrifice for their teammates, they weren’t willing to sacrifice for themselves. Now because they saw what happened [last year]we have people willing to make sacrifices.”

The pieces have fallen into place. The Cubs boast a rotation of servers and heavy hitters who put immediate pressure on an opponent’s blocking line.

With a talented but untried squad, Mira Costa coach Avery Drost’s plan on Saturday was simply to stay competitive – stay tough and rock Loyola in a high-pressure environment.

“I think one of the hardest things Loyola has to do is live up to your own expectations because expectations are so high with a team like this,” said Drost.

Sophomore Victor Loiola was particularly active, baggy shorts whizzing through the air as his lanky frame slammed ball after ball off the big Loyola blockers in the first set. After missing much of the season due to academic inadmissibility, the return of an outside hitter Boehle described as an “exemplar” is crucial for the Mustangs.

“People will want to see Victor Loiola play,” said Drost.

Loyola players watch as Mira Costa's Jason Walmer Gealon jumps to a dig at Loyola High on March 19, 2022.

Loyola players watch as Mira Costa’s Jason Walmer jumps to a dig at Loyola High on March 19, 2022.

(Brody Hannon)

Loyola narrowly fought his way to a win in the first set. After Mira Costa reduced a nine-point deficit to 16-12 in the second, Boehle grimaced and called for a timeout, prompting Klein to rally his teammates in the group.

“Enough,” Boehle recalled Klein’s words. “Let’s go. It’s time.”

On a return right after the time-out, Klein almost left a smoking hole in the hardwood with an atomic spike. Loyola held the Mustangs at bay for a second-set win and pulled away in the third set to earn a win in a regular-season game that meant something more.

From the stands, beach volleyball legend and former UCLA star Jim Menges was amazed by Klein’s athleticism.

“Very few people can jump like that,” Menges said. “It is given by God.”

The USC conscript walked off the floor back into his dressing room with a grin — this time with a sign of triumph, not defeat. It was time to replace some memories.

Loyola's Ryan Sprague (9) and Ryan Vena battle Mira Costa's Akeakamai Gealon for the ball over the net.

Loyola’s Ryan Sprague (9) and Ryan Vena battle for the ball over the net against Mira Costa’s Akeakamai Gealon on March 19, 2022

(Brody Hannon) Boys’ Volleyball: Loaded Loyola sweeps Mira Costa’s rebuild

Andrew Schnitker

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