That’s what coach John Jay calls the 2017 Buchanan boys volleyball team – a bunch of dudes short on elite talent but big on heart.
And true to their name, down 0-2, the Bears grinded out a grueling five-game match 23-25, 21-25, 25-17, 25-20, 15-12 in the Central Section D-I boys volleyball title game against a Cougars team that had beat them three out of four times during the season, winning an unprecedented fourth-straight Valley title in dramatic fashion.
Facing a mighty Clovis team at its den in front of a rowdy and raucous crowd, a wild celebration was set off after Buchanan’s Spencer Heimerdinger’s kill ended the two-hour match in what Jay calls one of his most satisfying wins as a coach.
“We are an unorthodox team, we are undersized by far and our goal was to just grind matches out,” said Jay. “We felt like tonight if we can get them to five then we have a shot.
“This was one of the most satisfying wins – we were completely undersized, we didn’t have the big bombers, but we had passion and heart and desire. They just wanted to get after it.”
The title game turned in the third set with Buchanan down 9-6 behind the strong defensive play of Rece Contable (16 digs in game), the all-around play of setter Kyle Merchen (16 digs, 59 assists) and the hitting of the 6-foot-8 Heimerdinger (26 kills). The Bears rallied to tie it at 9-9 then outscored Clovis 16-8 the rest of the set.
The Cougars would never recover.
“Once they broke, we just kept going,” said Jay. “Our kids just kept fighting – they had a will to win and we were not going to quit.”
All the while Heimerdinger and his Bear teammates kept the faith.
“We told ourselves that we could still do it,” said the All-TRAC basketball player. “They’re good but they’re still human, we didn’t want them to sweep us 3-0 and we wouldn’t go down without a fight.”
Clovis (28-8, 10-0) came into the match as the No. 1 seed featuring a senior laden team with big hitters Zevan Williams (24 kills), Akash Dhothar (15 kills), Max Ogas (12 kills) and setter Trey Lake (58 assists). Williams was most impressive, the 6-foot-4 outside hitter and UC Irvine signee was a jumping jack all evening, thundering kills, his head well above the net, soliciting ooh and ahhs throughout the gym.
But Buchanan, who came in with a 23-10 record, at least on this night was the better team and perhaps their most surprising Valley champion yet. Former Bear standouts Patrick Gasman (University of Hawaii) and Donovan Mitchell (Wake Forest basketball) were in the stands watching their former school capture its 11th boys volleyball Valley title.
“This was the most fun as a coach because every single match going to be a back and forth, nail scratch and crawl and fight to get that win,” said Jay. “I told them if we can break them once then things will start rolling because they haven’t been tested. Once we got over that edge I knew good things would happen for us.”