Maintaining the golden standard HOw Boys volleyball dominated the sport’s landscape over the last two years

Photos and reporting by Anish Vasudevan.

Back to back NorCal champs. Defending CCS champions. The second ranked team in the nation in 2019.

Over the past two seasons MVHS boys volleyball team has reached the pinnacle of high school sports. Heading into the 2020 season, MVHS lost five out of its six starters, leading the team into a fresh start.

Former MVHS player Jason Shen attempts to tip the ball between two Bellarmine College Prep. blockers in the 2018 Norcal semifinals. MVHS went on to win that game in five sets getting revenge for its loss against BCP in the CCS finals that year. MVHS would win again the following week in the Norcal finals in five sets against Clovis HS.

According to senior Matthew Yang, a key member of the team during the 2018 playoffs, a key factor in the team’s success was the positive attitude presented by all players on the team. Yang explains that through bench celebrations, and getting rid of the “bad stigma” about being on the bench, the Matadors were able to keep a light hearted mood throughout the season.

“I think all the players wanted what was best for the team,” Yang said. “They care more about the team winning this championship rather than their own glory. Like a lot of other teams, they just cheer for a spike, but for us, we compliment the passer for a good pass. The starters were very selfless and when bench players go in, the starters are very happy for them as well. We still have a very cooperative team, with everyone really caring for each other's success.”

Two MVHS players successfully block a spike from a Bellarmine College Prep. outside hitter in the 2018 Norcal semifinals. MVHS was ranked fourth in the nation that year.

The Matadors combined record in the last two years is 71-8, with a 31-1 league record. According to head coach Paul Chiu, who is entering his 11th year as the MVHS coach, another reason for the team’s success was the chemistry the class of 2019 created with each other and with Chiu.

“I coached seven of them at Kennedy MS when they were eighth graders. At that moment in time, only one of them played club volleyball,” Chiu said. “They got into volleyball as eighth graders and they grew up together. They cared about each other, they played for one another. They had a work ethic unlike any senior class I've had in my 10 years here.”

Even though MVHS has dominated in the past two years, Yang believes that the team was far from perfect.

“We were pretty dominant winning those championships,” Yang said. “However, it's not like we went undefeated every year or that the teams were no challenge to us in both of those NorCal finals. We still went to five sets, and those sets went down to scores like 15-13 or 16-14. It was definitely a challenge to win those games.”

Former MVHS player Kevin Mathew dawns a look of disbelief after MVHS captures its second straight Norcal championship. Mathew was the starting setter for both championships wins.

Yang believes that these wins by the Matadors in the 2018 stretch gave the team some notoriety across the state. According to junior Brandon Ng, this success placed “a target on their back” in the 2019 season.

“Everyone wanted to beat us and then [we had to] just go in and not let that happen,” Ng said. “Just coming in every game no matter who the opponent was ranging from teams like Harker to teams like Los Altos, that mentality was still strong the entire season, we were able to make sure that everything we needed to get done got done.”

Ng explains that even though MVHS was able to win, the team had showed signs of overconfidence last season because of previous successes.

“We had a couple of games last season where we came into the first set totally expecting a win,” Ng said. “For example, against Cupertino, who had only seven players and four of their regular starters, we came in and lost the first set. And our overconfidence [caused us to implode]. We had to get back into our mindset of, ‘We're not the team we were the year before,’ we still had to get back up to that level.”

Senior Matthew Yang digs a ball against Bellarmine College Prep. in the 2018 Norcal seminfinals. MVHS was ranked fourth in the nation in 2018.

The team was able to reach that level again the following year in 2019, winning the CCS championship for the first time in school history and capping off the season with a NorCal finals win. At the end of the 2019 season, the Matadors lost eight players out of the 16-man roster, but Yang explains that this should not be an issue for the team in 2020.

“Even though most of the starters will be bench players from last year, I think regardless of whether people were on the bench or starting, they still got the touches they needed in practice,” Yang said. “They still [have] that competitive atmosphere from going to games and cheering and occasionally going in. We still have people that will play this year and even bench this year will also have the drive to work hard and also how their motivation only we can still hit those goals.”

MVHS boys volleyball head coach Paul Chiu signals to the crowd after the conclusion of the 2019 Norcal championship. MVHS won 15-13 in the fifth set against Harker HS, mirroring the same exact score for the Matadors in the Norcal championship two years in a row.

According to Ng, the team has had to make changes in its strategies in order to replace some of the skills it lost. Ng, who formerly played in the defensive libero position, has moved to a more offensive position of outside hitter during the team’s offseason practices. Chiu explains that the team has to make numerous changes because of the height MVHS lost from last year.

“We're going to be fine as far serving, serve receive and defense,” Chiu said. “We're going to experiment with our offense, and we're gonna have to figure out how to get kills against the upper echelon teams. Our offense is going to be a work of progress, all the way through March hopefully, we will come around and in April and May in time for the playoffs.”

Senior Charlie Yi, who’s returning for his second year on the varsity squad, explains that most members of the team have still been getting the practice they needed after the end of the last season through club volleyball.

“Almost everyone plays club season during the fall, winter, so that helps us improve our game in general,” Yi said. “And lately during open gyms, our head coach has been working on things that he things we need to work on to win. We've been running a faster tempo on the set and that faster set will hopefully let us get around the block get more kills easily.”

Junior Brandon Ng celebrates the Matador's 2019 Norcal championship win against Harker HS. The Matadors won 15-13 in the fifth set, capturing its second straight Norcal championship victory.

Even though the team has made major strategy changes during the offseason, Ng believes that this year is a pivotal year for the volleyball team at MVHS.

“Is it the same dynasty that we've had before? Absolutely not,” Ng said. “We don't have the same strength that we did at the beginning of last season and two years ago. Do I think the dynasty is over? Absolutely not. I think that we've got a phenomenal chance to put in some great work against great teams and still show that we've got a shot.”

Ng explains that all teams go through these changes, and because of this, the team still has to ability to achieve the same success that it had in the past.

“Sure our game has changed — but just in general, whenever you play sports teams, teams are going to change,” Ng said. “They're going to change people, they're going to change coaches, they're going to change strategies. And the good teams are the ones that can come back every season, no matter what the situation is and keep fighting, keep playing for that championship.