SANTA CRUZ — The Aptos High Mariners were close. Oh-so-close.

The Pacific Collegiate School Pumas won the SCCAL Championship outright with a 25-19, 25-16, 18-25, 21-25, 15-12 victory on Friday at Harbor High School, holding off the Mariners from completing a furious comeback and denying them from repeating as league champions.

The Mariners (19-6, 12-3) led 12-10 late in game 5 when the Pumas (29-5, 15-1), led by senior outside hitter Wyatt Harrison, scored five unanswered points to secure the title in front of a raucous crowd.

“That’s what we’ve been working on all season, coming back when we’re down,” Harrison said. “Mental strength is the difference between last year and this year. We were able to mentally recover so much better this year. It feels amazing.”

Early in the game, it appeared that the Pumas would run away with the championship after handily winning the first two games. But the Mariners came alive, winning Game 3 and Game 4, setting up a repeat of an April 19 game in which the Mariners came back from a 2-0 deficit to hand PCS its only league loss.  

Like the crowd who shifted seats each time the teams alternated sides of the court, the momentum swayed from the Pumas to the Mariners after Game 2.

“The second set we kinda gave it to them, but after that, we played like ourselves with that killer instinct instead of being afraid to make an error,” said Aptos head coach Jacob Landel. “We were up 12-10 in the fifth set and then they went on a 5-0 run. I think that’s because we lacked that killer instinct.”

The win topped off what was the best SCCAL volleyball season in PCS history. After winning the SCCAL regular season, the Pumas won their first tournament championship in program history.

“It was way too close for comfort, but I’m really proud of the boys,” said Pacific Collegiate head coach Scott Sanborn. “They did what we asked them to do. Play steady defense, pass and be patient.”

The end of the game was not without its controversy. With Aptos clinging to a narrow lead a close call sent both teams to the referee pleading their cases.

“I thought if this is the point that loses us the game I would have been so upset, but we just shook it off and we were able to come back, so it really didn’t make that much of a difference,” Harrison said.

The crowd was loud and heavily involved the entire match. Stomping PCS fans made the stands rattle, while the Aptos faithful made their voices heard chanting throughout the evening. They were rewarded with a hard-fought five-set match, filled with spectacular digs, powerful spikes and deft, fingertip drops between diving defenders.

For the Pumas, Harrison led all players with 29 kills; junior Phil Grote had 15 kills and five blocks, senior Alex Ginella had eight kills, senior Jack Lee contributed four kills. Sophomore Jake Sandidge had 59 assists and sophomore Noa Harrison had 27 digs.  

For Aptos sophomore Kacey Losik had 19 kills, 18 assists and eight digs. Senior Jayson Guy put up 15 kills, eight digs and four blocks. Freshman Michael Spinelli contributed 30 assists, sophomore Noah Eitzen four points and five blocks and sophomore Jackson Shirley had eight kills.

Editor’s note: Bryce Stoepfel is a Cabrillo College student-intern working through the Pat and Rowland Rebele Fund.

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