By Laurel Busby
The young PaliHi boys volleyball team has already surged to success by winning the Gold Division championships in both the Venice Varsity Tournament and the Redondo Classic.
“This is the first time we’ve won the [Redondo tournament] in 10 to 15 years,” said head coach Carlos Gray, who noted the team’s strong early-season record: 16-1. “They’re a fun team to watch, and they’re a joy to coach.”
The Dolphins reunite five starters from last year’s squad, which featured three freshmen and two sophomores in its opening lineup. This year, the same five starters—junior twin brothers Jeff and Scott Stuart, plus now sophomores Akhil Tangutur, Marcus Partain and Justin Howard—have been joined by junior Flaviano Winther and a freshman, Partain’s younger brother, Miles.
The overall team, which also includes senior Eros Surya, juniors Jimmy Taylor, Riley Byington, Kai Padden and Colum Yeh, and sophomore Mason Mallory, began the Redondo Classic by winning pool-play matches against Long Beach Millikan (25- 18, 25-16) and Notre Dame (25-27, 25-22, 15-13), while dropping one to Calabasas (25-18, 23-25, 12-15).
In the Gold Division finals, Pali beat Servite (25-15, 19-25, 18-16), San Marcos (25-10, 25-13) and Orange Lutheran (25-16, 25-20). They then triumphed over Calabas- as (25-17, 25-17) to win the championship.
Tangutur, an outside hitter, was named the tournament’s most valuable player, while Marcus Partain, an opposite hitter and setter, and Howard, a middle blocker and opposite hitter, made all-tournament.
In the Venice tournament, the Dolphins swept every game to beat eight teams over two days on March 10-11. They beat Cleveland (25-11, 25-21), Kennedy (25-10, 25- 11), South Pasadena (25-15, 25-19), Heri- tage Christian (25-9, 25-16), Marshall (25- 10, 25-12), Lancaster (25-14, 25-7), Ver- dugo Hills (25-10, 25-12), and Crossroads (25-12, 25-15).
The Dolphins won two other non-league matches, sweeping Eagle Rock (25-12, 25- 20, 25-23) and Sylmar (25-21, 25-23, 25- 17). The wins came despite minimal practice time as the gym was still occupied until the second week of March by the school’s basketball teams, both of which reached the state playoffs.
In upcoming games, Gray, who began coaching the team four years ago after years of coaching at Malibu High, expects practice to help the Dolphins hold themselves to a “certain standard.”
“We have to use our maximum effort, and at times, we struggle with that,” said Gray, a special education teacher at Malibu High. He added, “We’ll get there. It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon.”
Last year, Palisades performed strongly despite a young roster. It reached the City Section Division 1 playoff finals, but lost a hard-fought match to El Camino Real (19-25, 25-20, 26-24, 16-25, 12-15). A year earlier, the Dolphins captured the title, beating Carson in five games (and winning the final game, 15-12).
This year, Gray, who played high school volleyball at St. Monica’s and college ball at Santa Monica College, has enjoyed the start of the season and expects the team to con- tinue to do well in Western League play.
“I love coaching them,” Gray said.
“They’re very receptive to coaching, and I have a team with a very high volleyball I.Q.,” which means they “understand the game. I don’t have to explain. I can adjust. If I just point out something that I see, they already know how to adjust to it.”
League play began against Venice on Monday, March 13, while Pali traveled to Hamilton on Wednesday, March 15. The Dolphins hosted University on Friday, March 17.