By Dan Arritt     3/21/2016

Even as the boys’ volleyball match ended and their opponents wildly celebrated on Servite’s home floor earlier this month, the Friars felt like they improved that night.

Huntington Beach entered the contest owning a 112-match winning streak, tied for the longest in the nation, and sporting a lineup that featured seven players ranging from 6’4” in height to 6’8.”

The Oilers quickly surged to a 5-0 lead in the opening set and their expressions indicated they weren’t concerned about blowing a chance at a national record that was four years in the making.

But then Servite found its rhythm, caught up to Huntington Beach and traded leads before the Friars scored the final three points of the opening set to steal the 28-26 victory and force the Oilers to get serious in the best-of-five match.

“I definitely think all the pressure was on them,” Servite senior outside hitter Matt Johnson says of that moment in the match. “They had the record to break. We were just playing to have fun.”

Huntington Beach regrouped to win the next three sets and establish the national record, but the Servite players were more than satisfied with their own performance.

“We took a set off Huntington Beach, the No. 1 team in the nation,” says junior outside hitter Garrett Halsey. “That’s a huge message to everybody out there. That we’re coming, we’re firing on all cylinders this year, and we’re ready to play.”

The Friars are the only Trinity League team to schedule Huntington Beach in the nonleague portion of the schedule. It’s the sixth year in a row Servite has played the Oilers, but the first time the Friars won a set in the matchup since 2012.

“If you play against the best of the best, it can prepare you for the best league in the nation,” says senior setter Grant Mooney. “When you can compete with a team like this, it’s not only getting you better volleyball-wise, your team chemistry is building.”

And the Friars didn’t just test themselves against Huntington Beach leading up to league play, but took on other top programs such as Edison, Dana Hills, Loyola, Redondo Union and Valencia.

“We play a tough preseason every year and this year’s not an exception,” Johnson says.

Servite’s biggest challenges in league play figure to come from Santa Margarita and Mater Dei, the two Trinity League teams that beat the Friars last season.

Santa Margarita returns five seniors from a team that came up a match short of tying Servite and Mater Dei for the league title last season. The Monarchs feature last season’s Trinity League most valuable player, junior setter Garrett Zolg, and a scrappy supporting cast that travelled to Servite for last season’s league finale and scored a victory to earn a share of the title.

Servite opens league play March 23 at Mater Dei, where the Friars won a four-set match last season to improve to 5-0 in league play. Servite went 3-2 during the second half of league competition to lose its grip on the outright championship, but the Friars figure to be better prepared for the long haul this time around.

Winning a set against the best team in the nation is certainly a boost for the confidence.