COSTA MESA -- The Orange Coast College men's volleyball team showed just how far it has come over the past few months with a convincing three-set sweep over Santa Monica City College on Thursday at Los Angeles Pierce College in the semifinals of the California Community College Athletic Association Men's Volleyball State Championships.
The three-headed offensive monster of Matt Ujkic (13 kills, .429 hitting percentage), Justin Kam (12 kills, one error, .618 hitting percentage) and Jordan Hoppe (10 kills, three solo blocks) attacked early and often and topped the No. 4-seeded Corsairs, 25-22, 25-14, 28-26.
With the win, the top-seeded Pirates (20-1), winners of 19 straight, will take on seventh-seeded El Camino (12-7) on Saturday night at LAPC for the state title, beginning at 7 p.m. This is the second straight appearance in the state finals for the Pirates and fifth trip to the title match since 2009.
"It was a good match and we did a lot of good things against a solid team," OCC head coach Travis Turner said. "We really took it to them in the first two sets, but kind of had a lull in the third that kept them (SMCC) in it. It's a natural thing to do, but it's something we can't afford to do on Saturday if we want to win this thing."
Vecas Lewis had 10 kills for the Corsairs (14-6), who handed Coast its only loss of the season back on Feb. 4 (15-25, 25-19, 27-25, 27-25).
After losing an early lead in the opening set, Coast was tied at 19 with SMCC before a key four-point swing put the Pirates back in front for good. A service error and back-to-back-to-back kills by Hoppe, Ujkic and Kam pushed OCC ahead, 23-19. After both teams traded blows, a Kam put-away ended the first set in favor of the Pirates.
Coast took that momentum from Set 1 and rolled into Set 2 with an 19-9 outburst and never looked back. Several SMCC hitting errors and strong serving by the Pirates proved too much for the Corsairs as OCC grabbed a 2-0 lead in the match.
It looked like it would be a quick night for the Pirates as they jumped out to another early lead (8-2), but Santa Monica found some momentum as Coast took its foot off the gas pedal a bit.
SMCC caught up and grabbed the lead midway through the set and had a set-point opportunity at 24-23 before back-to-back kills by Kam and Hoppe turned the momentum and the lead back to Coast, 25-24.
The Corsairs fought off two match-point opportunities before kills by Hoppe and Kam ended the match and advanced OCC back to the state title match.
Earlier in the night, El Camino upset second-seeded Long Beach City College, 26-24, 25-27, 25-19 to return to the state finals for the first time since 2005. The Warriors have not won a state men's volleyball title, finishing runner-up on three different occasions.
Despite the "upset" this was the matchup that Turner thought would happen, thanks in large part to ECC's standout outside hitter, Cesar Medina.
Medina, dubbed by some in the volleyball circle as a "Spanish Karch Kiraly" out of high school in 2012, has overcome several challenges while growing up to be recognized as one of the top volleyball players in the state.
"He's by far, the best player in the state," Turner said of Medina. "He's able to do things that our guys have never seen before. Sure, his team is 12-7, but a lot of that is because he's simply not able to play all of the time because of this own responsibilities. In fact, when we played them at the beginning of the season (a four-set win for OCC), he was only able to play the last two sets, so technically, we are 1-1 in sets against that team with him on the floor."
Medina, who only played in 48 of 71 matches for the Warriors, still led the team with 238 kills and was second on the team with 85 digs.
"The best way to slow down a player like that is to serve really well and force them to not be as sharp with their plays as they'd like to be," Turner said. "We've been serving great lately, so if we can continue to do that, we can force them into mistakes."
Others to watch for the Warriors include hitter P.J. Tulikihihifo (135 kills), setter Pedro Campos (462 assists) and libero Jason Carroll (108 digs).
For the Pirates, they will need their depth to overcome the standout play of Medina and with the likes of Hoppe (237 kills, 122 digs, 27 aces), Kam (229 kills, 100 digs) and Ujkic (139 kills, 56 digs, 39 blocks).
If serving is to be the difference, Coast has plenty of weapons to choose from. In addition to Hoppe, Chase Moothart is tied for the team lead with 27 aces, while setter Colby Elder (482 assists) is close behind with 17 aces and fellow setter Jacob Gilliam (287 assists) had 13 aces. Overall, OCC has a 132-58 advantage in the serving department.
Coast, making its 16th apparance in a state title match in 36 seasons, is looking for its seventh state men's volleyball title (1987, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1994, 2014).