By Austin Green
Located in the middle of the championship banners inside the John Burroughs High School is one banner commemorating the 10 consecutive Pacific League titles in boys’ volleyball, with markers for every year from 2010 to 2019. Due to COVID-19, there will be no banner for 2020.
But after the Bears’ three-set sweep over archrival Burbank High School on Thursday, there will be one for 2021, as Burroughs extended its Pacific League championship streak under head coach Joel Brinton to 11.
Both teams were undefeated in league play entering Thursday, and the talented upstart Bulldogs hoped this round of the rivalry would signify a changing of the guard in the Pacific League.
But the loaded Bears simply proved too much for the visiting squad, winning in straight sets 25-16, 25-19, 25-19.
“I think that our guys knew what this meant and I think their [Burroughs] guys knew what this meant for the city and for the respective programs,” Burbank head coach Patrick Tyler said. “This was a monumental game for both programs and I think, from our side, we just tried a little too much.”
Burbank got off to a rough start in the first set, as its attack was rattled when star outside hitter Jonathan Coleman was blocked twice in the first three points.
Burroughs eventually extended its lead to 23-11 with great offensive play from middle blocker Chris Johnson and outside hitter Carter Cottrell, who combined for eight kills and two aces in the set.
But the Bulldogs narrowed the score to single digits late, thanks to a run from middle blocker Matthew Ballash and outside hitter Choy Jimenez, feeding off a raucous crowd that included some Burbank fans who made the brief trip south. Burbank finally folded on an attack error.
The second and third sets were much more competitive as the Bulldogs settled in, but the Bears seemingly had an answer for most everything Burbank threw at them. Coleman and Jimenez started connecting more on the Bulldogs’ attack in set two, but Bears opposite hitter Vinny Harris had five kills, including four in a late run, and outside hitter Justin Burras added three to help pull away.
Set three was a full team effort from Burroughs as the Bears scored seven straight points off kills, getting contributions from Johnson, Cottrell, Harris, Burras, outside hitter Michael Cutone and middle blocker Mark Hopkins. Burras put the game away with a kill, clinching the streak-reviving Pacific League title.
Following the abrupt end to the 2020 season and a year of pandemic uncertainty, this one was extra sweet for Brinton.
“I’m still processing it but by the time the emotions die down, it’s going to mean a lot for the kids,” Brinton said. “From being online all the time to being so excited to be back out. I remember our first day of practice when we were outdoors; it was like little kids in the sandbox again, so for them to get the chance to go ahead and compete and then to do that, it’s cool. It’s hard to put into words.”
Cottrell finished with five kills, three aces and one block. As one of Burroughs’ four seniors, he had waited over two years to celebrate another league title.
“It just means everything to us because we kinda took volleyball for granted before the whole virus and everything, so it was just awesome to be with the boys and win another chip,” Cottrell said.
Burroughs finishes the regular season at 7-1 overall and 5-0 in league. Burbank finishes at 4-1, with all games coming in league play. At first and second place in the Pacific League, respectively, both schools qualify for the CIF playoffs and will learn their tournament slots when Southern Section brackets are released on Saturday.