Valencia Boys Volleyball is the Nation's Number-one Ranked Team
But is that Enough to Win CIF?
June, 2008 - Issue #44
In the realm of Santa Clarita Valley boys volleyball, the Valencia Vikings are the definition of a dynasty. They have won eight consecutive Foothill League championships, compiling 73 straight league wins in the process.

And they are only getting better.

In 2007, the Vikings dropped only two games in league play. This year, they dropped none. "That was one of our goals this year," says head coach Mark Knudsen. "It's a nice accomplishment."

In the world that is Valencia boys volleyball, however, "nice accomplishments" are never enough. The Vikings (32-2) finished a potentially treacherous regular season ranked number three in the country by the sports website Now comes the CIF-Southern Section Division II playoffs.

"Our goal is to win a CIF championship," Knudsen says. "We've been ranked number one in the country this year, but you don't get a ring for being ranked number one in the country. The guys want to win CIF." If the Vikings capture the title, it will be the program's fourth in six years. But it won't be easy.

Division II is home to three of the nation's top 10 teams: Valencia (#3), Corona Del Mar of Newport Beach (#7) and Santa Barbara (#9). Santa Barbara, which returned most of its players after knocking Valencia out of the playoffs in the semifinals last year, handed Valencia a 23-25, 21-25 setback in the finals of the Best of the West Tournament in San Diego on March 8.

"In a way I'm almost thankful for that loss to Santa Barbara," says Viking senior outside hitter Jamey Ker. "You learn the most when you lose. It was really good for us, as much as I always want to win."

Apparently, the Vikings learned something. Less than two weeks later, on March 14, they avenged the loss a 25-13, 25-15, 25-15 sweep of the Dons at home. Heading into the playoffs, the rivalry is primed for another chapter.

"It's not beach school versus desert school," says Knudsen. "This is a flat out rivalry. It's school versus school. We just like to beat each other." Says Ker: "There's no introduction necessary. We know each other. It's not like we talk, or anything, though."

Ker, a returning All-CIF first team selection, is the lone Viking on the team to have played in a CIF final. After coming close last year, he's eager to finish the job.

"It's ridiculous how hungry we are," he says. "Not only because of last year, but because we set our expectations so high. To not accomplish it would be a huge heartbreak." He won't do it alone.
Knudsen calls this his "most athletically-gifted squad" he's ever had. It's a team that's so balanced and so deep, opponents are still trying to find a consistent weakness.

"The athletes we have are so good," Knudsen says. "We've always had good volleyball players here. This team has great athletes who play volleyball. We've got former football players. We've got basketball players. What makes this team so imposing is our athleticism."

From an opponent's perspective, the Viking lineup is a minefield. Senior Eric Miyamoto patrols from the libero position, while outside hitters Ker and Jon Griffith attack at the net. Middle blockers Jim Baughman (6-feet-7), Skyler Seymour (6-feet-7) and Derrick Trent (6-feet-4) provide height, as does 6-feet-9 senior Jake Piva. Senior Giovanni Botten sets the table.

"I think our strength is that we have so few weaknesses," Knudsen says. "We have great hitters and great height. Our serving is solid and we have some of the best passers in volleyball. We're not unbeatable, though. We're not immortal. But we're hungry. For better or worse, we didn't win it last year. So we don't have to fight complacency. A lot of these guys have seen their older brothers celebrate a championship. Now they want that."

Piva (UCLA), Ker (UCLA), Trent (Long Beach State), Baughman (Long Beach State), Miyamoto (University of Hawaii) and Griffith join a growing list of Viking alumni playing on the next level.

Despite the wealth of talent, the Vikings are not a team of superstars - that's especially true this year. They win as a unit. "We're not doing team awards at the end of the season this year," Ker says. "We don't think there's an MVP on this team. We have a group of guys who make an impact."

Is it enough of an impact to celebrate on May 24, the date of the CIF title match? The Vikings expect to be there. They are expecting a familiar foe to be there as well. "I hope we see Santa Barbara again," Ker says. "I don't like them. We would love to beat them. That would be a great way to end my four years here - the icing on the cake."
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