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Success built on tradition

Valencia’s volleyball excellence has been second to none for nearly a decade

Posted: May 23, 2009 9:41 p.m.
Updated: May 24, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Valencia assistant coach David Neeley, far left, consults with head coach Mark Knudsen during a timeout Friday against Royal at Valencia High.

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Just walk into Valencia High’s gymnasium and take a look around.

Six CIF-Southern Section Division championship banners hang from the ceiling — four are for boys volleyball (2003, 2004, 2006, 2008).

League championships are displayed on the north wall. There are eight straight Foothill League titles, with a ninth yet to be posted, again, boys volleyball.

The opposite wall honors male and female athletes of the year. Surrounding football player Shane Vereen’s name (2007) are volleyball standouts Teddy Goetz (2006) and Jim Baughman (2008).

And of course, don’t forget the national championship from 2008.

Most impressive is the staying power that the Vikings have had throughout the decade.

Players come and go, yet they rarely miss a step, and believe me, some good ones have gone through.

For instance, there are currently three Vikings playing for UCLA – Goetz, and Kevin and Jamey Ker.

It is almost overwhelming how ingrained volleyball tradition has become at Valencia.

But why? Why Valencia? How does this team maintain such a high level of excellence?

“It is one of those things where you start to draw the good athletes,” said seventh-year Vikings head coach Mark Knudsen. “It started eight years ago with the first league championship.”

The Vikings have built from there.

Success has bred greater success and before long, the Foothill League funnel ended at Dickason Drive.

In 2009, some people might have expected a letdown. After all, all but two rostered players from the 2008 national championship squad had graduated.

Instead, the team extended its league winning streak to 82 games.

One of three total seniors on this year’s team, middle blocker Jon Souisa explained where the program’s success comes from after the team’s 3-2 loss to Royal of Simi Valley in the CIF-Southern Section Division II quarterfinals.

“A lot of hard work and success over the years,” Souisa said. “There were those that came before us. (We want to) keep the tradition. We have to establish ourselves.”

Each team wants to build on the ones that came before it.

Sophomore outside hitter Broc Oppler said past success is a motivating factor.

“It is the legacy,” he said. “We have Valencia behind us so we just have to put everything out there.”

Still, much credit has been pointed toward the bench.

“(Knudsen) has always been encouraging us,” said junior outside hitter Daniel Johnson. “We got crushed by Westlake (3-0) at the beginning of the year, but he wouldn’t let us get down. He told us the teams before us have all been killed by Westlake. Knudsen is a huge part (of the success).”

Amidst intense pressure, Knudsen remains calm and relaxed, providing an example for his team to model.

His optimism for the future is well-founded.

Losing only three seniors to graduation, the young Vikings will return a corps of talent which includes Oppler, Johnson, 6-foot-6-inch middle blocker Josh Duarte, junior setter Steven Crane and junior libero Nick Ferry to name a few.

Plus, the junior varsity and freshman teams both went undefeated this year.

This season has been a learning experience, and one in which Valencia looks ready to build upon.

If the team’s response to adversity in Friday night’s loss to Royal is any indication, the key to Valencia’s success is simple.

It is the culture.

pputignano@the-signal.com

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