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The Age of Excellence: Crowning achievement

Valencia boys volleyball peaked with 2008 national title

Posted: December 27, 2009 11:24 p.m.
Updated: December 28, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Valencia's Skyler Seymour (23) leaps to spike the ball against West Ranch during the 2008 season. The Vikings won their fourth CIF-Southern Section Division II championship and were named national champions after the season.

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The 2008 season marked the seventh time in the previous eight years that the Valencia boys’ volleyball team was in a CIF championship game.

This time, however, more was at a stake than just a CIF title.

A national title was in the Vikings’ grasp as well — they just didn’t know it.

“We didn’t really know it was an accomplishment we could have,” says Jim Baughman, a member of the team.

The Vikings faced Santa Barbara in the title match, and after swiftly dispatching the Dons 25-16, 32-30 and 25-22, Valencia had staked its claim as not only the best team in Division II of the CIF-Southern Section, but also the entire country.

The Vikings were named national champions by StudentSportsVolleyball.com, a site run by Rivals.com. The honor gave Valencia’s athletic program its second national championship in the last two years, with the softball team having been named national champions in 2007.

The win also solidified the 2008 Vikings as one of the greatest Santa Clarita Valley sports teams of the last decade.

Coming into the season, the Vikings had one main goal set for their team.

“We definitely wanted to make a statement that season,” Baughman says. “We had a very close team so it wasn’t all about winning, but we basically had the highest expectations coming into the season. We knew the history of the program and wanted to bring that back.”

After working all season to get to the finals, the flu bug hit the team and there was some cause for concern heading into the title match.

“We actually were really kind of worried because Jake Piva was throwing up the day before, and so was setter Gio Botten,” says Jamey Ker, an outside hitter on the team. “We almost had a bucket on the side of the court for Botten. Jon Griffith was sick too, so it was a little nerve-wracking. You prepare all season for that game and the day before you find out everyone is not feeling well.”

Regardless of the health of the team, the Vikings came out on fire and cruised in the first game.

The second game turned out to be the most pivotal of the match. Santa Barbara came back with more energy and the game lasted into extra points.

Finally, the Vikings took the game and the momentum of the match.

“We were fired up (for the third game). We were going to take it to the house,” says Valencia head coach Mark Knudsen.  “Winning that second game, we felt a lot of relief, and that second game ended on some really athletic plays and we had a lot of momentum.”

The third game led to the CIF championship, the program’s fourth during the decade, and the national championship.

“It’s the Valencia dynasty,” says Ker, who along with brothers Tony and Kevin have been part of all four titles - 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2008. “It started off with some guys that (Tony) was playing with. They didn’t take it home even though they played in the finals two years in a row, and they got the ball rolling on the dynasty. They set the precedent for what it was going to be like.

“It got people into volleyball. I’m graduated, and I really want the guys to do well still. I know some of them, but even if I didn’t I would still want them to do really well.”

In the early years of the decade, the Vikings quickly rose to the top of the division, and although they lost their first two CIF title matches in 2001 and 2002, they got the volleyball rolling.

With all of that success, however, friendly arguments among alumni are not uncommon, especially in the Ker family.

Tony’s titles came in 2003 and 2004, Kevin’s came in 2004 and 2006, and Jamey’s came in 2006 and 2008. All three went on to play at UCLA.

“We have this argument all the time with my brothers, whose team was the best?” Ker says. “We all say our senior year was the best team. It’s just cool having the different accomplishments of the teams, though. It’s a friendly competition between all the alumni.”

For Knudsen, who has coached Valencia since 2003, each one was a little different.

But he says the 2008 squad may have been the best and deepest team he’s ever coached.

“2008 was unique because we had so much talent. The other teams were great, but we were normal high school teams, we had some weaknesses,” Knudsen says. “But in 2008 we were so deep that every position was super strong. Six of those guys went on to play college and they were just outstanding athletes. It was an amazing experience to work with such a great group of boys.”

Colleges eventually scooped up all that talent.

“It was so awesome,” adds Baughman, who now plays at Long Beach State. “It was something I got to be a part of once and to be a CIF champion is something you can’t explain. We didn’t expect it, but we held ourselves to that. It was so surreal.”

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