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Poly Boys Lose CIF-SS Volleyball Championship Match

The team fell just short of winning it all but built a high-character culture and built-to-last foundation for the future.

Junior Weston Werner elevates for the kill. (Ken Crawford)

You know those movies that start with the end of the story? They do that for a reason. Knowing the conclusion up front frees you from the anticipation of wondering what will happen. It lets you focus on the characters and the moments without the tension of an unresolved narrative. 

So, the Poly Boys Volleyball team lost in the CIF Southern Section, Division 6 Championship match to Samueli Academy Firewolves 3-0. They fought to contend in the first two sets, but Samueli beat them easily in the third by a score of 25-12. Samueli brought a small but lively road crowd that cheered them on and helped them rally through. Ultimately, they celebrated on Poly’s floor, and Poly’s season ended. There, I ruined it for you—no hope for a happy ending.

In 2021, the Poly Boys Volleyball team went 0-11. The team consisted of athletes from other sports moonlighting as volleyball players and people who wanted something different to fill their P.E. requirements. 2022 wasn’t much better. The boys won two of twenty matches, finishing last in the Sunbelt League again.

It may not have translated to wins in 2022, but a few boys started to like playing volleyball. They weren’t discouraged by their record, and a cohort of sophomore and junior players committed to creating a winning culture at Poly Volleyball for 2023 and beyond.

Poly alumnus Manny Savalza took over the Head Coach position for the 2023 season. He knew what it took to win at Poly, having played on the first-ever boys’ team at the school and captaining the team during their perfect league run in 2017. They would go all the way to the CIF-SS semifinal that year. He went away to play four years at NCAA Division 3 Elms College, near Boston, before returning to California, where he would coach at Bravo Volleyball and Poly High School.

Savalza recalls,  “When (I took) over the program, I came in and set some ground rules and hoped that the boys would follow and be committed; with that being said, it was easy to see the players that were just there for fun and to see those that really wanted to win.”

Coach Savalza, senior co-captains Noah Thetford and Benzy Tovar, and junior co-captain Keane Jameson led the 2023 team to their first winning record in league play since 2018 and second place in the Sunbelt league. They earned an at-large bid for the wild card match, where they lost to Norte Vista in five sets; four of the five sets were lost by only two points. This was a different program than it was just two years earlier.

The team came into this season with momentum, something they hadn’t had at Poly in years. This was a team on the upswing. They believed in each other and trusted the work they had put into playing club volleyball over the off-season. They believed in Coach Manny and had faith in their training and experience. These boys weren’t looking for an “Easy A” in P.E. They wanted to win. 

Poly played a challenging non-league schedule in preparation for the 2024 Sunbelt season. They won all of their league games except for three games against Rancho Verde and finished second in the league. They avoided the play-in this year and won their first-round match at home against Liberty High School. They went on to easily beat Montebello, escape Lancaster with a tough road victory in the Quarterfinals, and top Costa Mesa at home in four sets.

Here we are, back to the end, where we started. The 2024 Poly Boys Volleyball team showed they had the character, put in the work, and created something special. I wish I could have waited a week and been able to write the “Poly Boys Volleyball State Champs” story. That didn’t happen, but these boys made something from nothing. They didn’t join a dynasty. The Poly Boys 2024 Volleyball season is the scrappy, bootstraps, raw determination sports story we all love. It fell just short. Sometimes, life isn’t about what you’ve earned or deserve or how hard you’ve worked and how badly you want it. Sometimes life happens to you. 

Bears Volleyball, you guys had a fantastic season, and the city is proud. We wish the best of luck to those of you going on to play at the next level and to the boys moving on. Some great players are returning next year, and some only know Poly Volleyball as a winning program. Co-captain Keane Jameson will be playing college volleyball at Fullerton College next season. He leaves the program with a message of encouragement. "These guys are really special. They’re all dedicated and have the same main goal. That’s really something that can't be taught. This team has really bought into working hard and fighting to win, and I have no doubt they’ll be making another deep playoff run next season." Enjoy your summer, boys, and see you next year.