Two years ago, under the guidance of head coach Jeff Holloway, the Spartans captured the program’s first Pacific View League championship.
This season they’re looking to make it league title No. 2—and things don’t end there.
Rio Mesa has been ranked all year in the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 coaches’ poll. Currently they’re at No. 7, right behind PVL rival Camarillo.
According to Holloway, Rio Mesa was never ranked prior to the 2012 campaign.
In addition, the Spartans will begin postseason play soon, where RMHS will take aim at its first section final appearance in program history.
Following Tuesday’s threegame victory at Oxnard, which pushed Rio Mesa’s record to 17-9 overall and 5-1 in league, multiple players commented that qualifying for a CIF title match would be a dream come true.
Suffice it to say, there’s a lot on Rio Mesa’s plate as the season reaches its critical stages.
“Right off the bat, based on the people we had staying from last season, we knew this was going to be our year,” said John Liporada, the Spartans’ lethal 5-foot-4 libero.
“We set a high goal this year— all of us did. We want to get a banner in our gym for volleyball. We’d be the first team to get that up there for Rio Mesa. CIF runners-up or a championship, either banner would be nice.”
It’s been a week since RMHS suffered its first league setback, a five-game thriller at Camarillo that vaulted the Scorpions into sole possession of first place.
Against Oxnard on Tuesday, the sting of that defeat still lingered on the Spartan bench and on the court.
Holloway utilized a few new lineups against Oxnard, trying to concoct a way to attack Camarillo when the teams meet again in the regular-season finale May 1.
The tinkering made for some sloppy play from the Spartans, but they easily prevailed nonetheless.
“For the most part, I want to stick with what’s been working up until this point,” said Holloway, in his fifth season leading Rio Mesa. “But I’m trying to get us a few other strengths to counter (Camarillo’s) strengths.”
Junior outside hitter Sean Bisnett, the Spartans’ kill leader, said losing to Camarillo sucked the momentum right out of his squad. It was a big-time learning experience, he added.
“We learned a lot of things in that match,” Bisnett said.
“We learned that we need some new rotations and need to be more creative on offense. We kept things pretty basic up until then. Mostly, though, we learned that we need to play harder.”
Bisnett added that it was time to move on from the defeat.
“I’m loving our team right now,” the junior said. “I thought we were going to win that Camarillo match. But I know we’ll come back ready for revenge next time we face them.”
Tri-captains Andrew Araiza, Liporada and Bisnett are the backbone of this team. Araiza and Liporada are two of nine seniors on the Spartan roster.
Standing 6-foot-4 with an condor-like wingspan, Araiza is Rio Mesa’s most intimidating presence at the net.
The middle blocker rejects kill attempts like Simon Cowell sends off sorry singers—early, often and with ruthless abandon.
“I try to help the team in any way I can,” Araiza said. “I’m out there to get blocks and assist our back row. . . .
“When I get a big kill or a big block, it really pumps the guys up.”
Holloway said Bisnett, the outside hitter, is a tenacious allaround player with a high volleyball IQ. Bisnett logged 161 kills in the team’s first 26 matches.
The coach called Liporada “amazing.”
“The kid has vision that I can’t even describe,” said Holloway of his starting libero.
“I can teach a kid how to pass. I can teach a kid how to play defense. But I can’t teach them to know where the ball is going to go. And he just knows where the ball is going and happens to be there. He’s phenomenal.”
Senior middle blocker/ opposite Brett McKinney is a high-energy player with an unorthodox style, the coach said.
Payton Palmer-Newton, another senior, is versatile enough to compete all over the court. Palmer-Newton’s primary positions are setter and opposite hitter.
Senior setter Brandon Guiang leads Rio Mesa in assists.
Jason Ah Sue, a senior outside hitter, could put someone in the hospital with his powerful kills.
“He hits harder than anyone on our team,” Holloway said of Ah Sue. “He’s just a little bit inconsistent. Sometimes he puts dents in the floor, and sometimes he puts dents in the wall.
“When he’s on, we haven’t seen anybody all season hit as hard as he does.”
Seniors Ben Quantock, Justin Kelley and Kevin Abernathy, as well as juniors Robert Espana and Dillon Estrada have all played vital roles in the Spartans’ success.
Mike Bisnett, Gonzalo Rodriguez and Chris Holdsworth are assistant coaches.
“There’s definitely some pressure, but these kids embrace it,” Holloway said. “They want to perform well. They want to win.”