It’s playoff time once again at the Baldwin Gymnasium, the house of the defending Men's Volleyball NCS champions, your College Prep Cougars.
This past Tuesday, College Prep hosted our school rival at Head-Royce, hoping to even the season series (Head-Royce beat them in March 3-2 in sets) and claim the second seed in the BCL league playoffs.
From the get-go, it was clear that this game meant more than the others. All week the chatter around campus had been about taking down the Jayhawks. This game had been circled on the Cougars’ calendar for weeks and they weren’t ready to go down without a fight.
However, Head-Royce came ready to play as well, breaking away in the middle of the first set to silence the Prep crowd and take an early lead. Colin Tai asserted his dominance as a premier player as the Cougars struggled to set up their outside hitters for kill opportunities.
Beckett Alper (Class of 2025) turned the game around. Beckett, a Head-Royce student through middle school, always rises to the occasion when it comes to CPS-HRS rivalry matchups. Beckett was passionate throughout the game, and the Cougar’s comeback started under his command. Beckett was everywhere, setting, hitting, and passing, finishing the game with a team high: 15 kills.
Sets 2 and 3 went back and forth, throughout, but the Cougars managed to be more consistent, finding a rhythm in their passes and feeding their point scorers. Henry Tai, whose Ja Morant-like bunnies pumped energy throughout the gym, bewildered the crowd with his frequent high-flying spikes (Tai finished the game with 11 kills). Head-Royce tried to put together rallies at the end of the 2nd and 3rd sets, but the leads that the Cougars created mid-set proved to be insurmountable.
When the 4th set came along, College Prep was ready to put the Jayhawks to sleep. They finished with a 25-18 set win to secure a home game in the BCL semifinals.
Friday, on Senior Night, College Prep hosted St. Joe’s and lost 3-2 in a tightly contested game that came down to the wire.
Senior Night showcased the careers of Jude Partovi and Abraham Quastler-Cumming, both key pieces for the Cougar squad this season. Jude has played volleyball in all four of his years at CPS and put up a fantastic performance against St. Joe’s, leading the team with 14 kills and 3 blocks. Jude is an outside hitter and one of the bigger players on the floor for the Cougars. Abe also plays upfront, middling for the team this year because of his premier hopes, a physical talent that transferred over from his basketball days (top dual sport athlete in the school??). Abe’s front-line presence defensively will be key for the Cougars down the stretch.
However, despite the loss, the Cougars still feel like they're playing their best ball of the season, and know they have what it takes to add a banner to Baldwin.
I sat down with Joss Meir, sophomore setter, to talk about the keys to Thursday’s matchup with Head-Royce. While there are always many factors, Joss believes that the main key to Thursday’s game will be to limit Colin Tai’s playmaking ability.
“We gotta be ready to dig Colin Tai’s hits,” Joss explained when I asked him about the keys to Thursday’s marquee matchup. “They set him everywhere on the court, so we just have to be ready.”
In addition to limiting Colin, the Cougars have to communicate offensively in order to set up their outside hitters. If the set is there for the hitter, lead-point scorers Beckett, Jude, and Henry have proven to be effective in getting over the top. However, the Cougars have to make sure to get to that position in order to be successful. (That’s my two cents as a sports journalist who’s never played volleyball. Take it or leave it.)
“We proved on Friday we can beat St. Joe’s. Now we just gotta finish out.”
Come to the Cougar Den on Thursday and see if they can finish the job.