Keira Brady leapt for a spike, the ball hit the hardwood, and head coach CJ Suarez felt his legs give out.
There are few more energetic girls’ volleyball coaches in Southern California than Suarez, who gave his all to the West Hills Chaminade girls team for a final time this season Saturday night. He pumped his fist after a second-set ace. He yelled, gutturally, after big points, raising his Gatorade cup to the Chaminade crowd before a match-deciding fourth set.
So when Brady’s final spike clinched Chaminade’s Division II state final win against Fresno Clovis North, Suarez gave one final two-handed fist pump — then crumpled to the floor as his assistants dropped to hug him.
“It’s just like, I can’t — all of the weight came off and I’m able to move freely a little bit more, season’s done,” Suarez said of falling to the floor. “It’s just crazy.”
An emotional year for Chaminade was capped with a Division II state championship Saturday night, as Chaminade used a third-set turnaround to beat Clovis North 3-1 (25-19, 13-22, 25-19, 25-22). Junior Brady finished with 21 kills, while senior captain Danit Cohen — who got the biggest cheer postgame — set her up often with 41 assists.
After a dominant opening set, Chaminade stumbled in the second, Clovis North blocking and digging any Eagle attack. But after falling behind 7-4 in the third set, Chaminade began stringing together points, and energy in the stands began building as Suarez raised his hand with each kill.
“Just, ‘Oh, there’s Chaminade, finally’ … it takes a streak of a moment,” Suarez said postgame.
A decade ago, Suarez was a senior at Verdugo Hills, readying for a City Section Division 2 championship against Jordan High. The Dons lost in three sets, and the defeat has stuck with the Chaminade coach. He went to college, trying to figure out his life, not sure if he’d find his way back to a high school championship.
The win Saturday was a bit of personal redemption for Suarez. An indescribable feeling, as he put it. And that is why he fell.
Buckley loses, but proves it’s a program on the rise
On Saturday morning, Tina Wolfson went to Party City and bought six red wigs.
Later, in preparation for Sherman Oaks Buckley’s CIF Division 3 state championship match at Santiago Canyon College, she passed them out to a crowd of Buckley supporters. Some were curly. Some, such as Wolfson’s and her grandmother’s, were stringy. And they stood out comically amid a sea of Buckley red shirts and pom-poms in the bleachers, supporting their tiny private school of 830 students nestled in Sherman Oaks.
“There’s a feeling that history is being made … for us to come this far, it elevates our school,” Wolfson said, she and her grandmother smiling in the stands.
They didn’t finish a dream season, as San Anselmo Williams won 3-1 (16-25, 25-22, 25-23, 25-23) in late sets to claim a Division III state title. But even as the elated shouts of the Williams girls reverberated throughout the postgame media room, Buckley first-year coach Otis Glasgow was steadfast, asking his team to hold the runners-up trophy for a minute.
“No team on Buckley’s campus has this trophy,” said Glasgow, whose preparation and exuberance steered Buckley to a program-best 28-4 season. “No team. No team at all … has this medal.”
Midway through a tight second set, the Williams crowd chanted, “Who is Buck-ley!”
It was their goal this season, Wolfson’s daughter and 6-foot-2 middle blocker Sophia Wolfson said, to put Buckley’s name on the grid of California volleyball. And next season, Glasgow said, there’s no ceiling for the program.
“Wherever, whatever division you’re in — if you’re playing volleyball, you’re going to know Buckley’s name,” Glasgow said.