At the start of the third and final set of the Latin Academy boys’ volleyball team’s season opening 3-0 loss to rival Cambridge Rindge & Latin on Thursday afternoon, senior middle hitter Fritz Jolivian served the ball before the referee blew her whistle.
“Wait for the whistle,” Latin Academy assistant coach Hung Tran shouted.
“It’s his first game, come on,” head coach Phuong Cao replied.
Aside from that small transgression, the four-year Latin Academy basketball player could not have played better in his first competitive volleyball game.
“I’m a rookie to the sport, I didn’t really know what was going on,” said Jolivian, who never touched a volleyball before practice started about three or four weeks ago. “I’ll definitely clean that up and get it better."
Cao, who has been trying to convince the Dragons' basketball players to come out for his team since he took over the program four years ago, could not be more pleased to finally have some athletes on his team who can play above the net.
Even though Latin Academy lost (25-23, 25-22, 25-19) to the defending state champs, Cao said the match was the closest he’s ever come to beating Cambridge in his tenure.
“Finally a couple of [basketball players] decided to join the team this year,” said Cao, who also convinced junior basketball player Darren Chanel to play this spring. “I wish they had last year so they could learn a little bit about the game. It was their first game and I think they did pretty well for their first time playing volleyball for us.
“[Fritz] picked up the game very fast. So hopefully with more time he’ll get the game down by the end of the season. We play these guys again at the end of the year so we’ll see how it goes.”
In the past, Cao has struggled to get basketball players to join the team partially because there has been a stigma at the school that volleyball is only for Asians. That was not an issue for Jolivian.
“I go to school with Asians all the time so it’s not really something that affected me,” Jolivian said. “I’m friends with a lot of them, I take classes with them. So being on the volleyball is nothing different … I decided since I’m a senior and it will be my last chance to do something with the school I decided why not, and I decided to play volleyball.”
Latin Academy trailed for much of the first set before knotting the score at 16. The Dragons even scored the next three points. But Cambridge 6-foot-8-inch senior Jalen Penrose (19 kills) tied the game at 22 with a hard spike before his team took the set, 25-23.
Penrose, who is close to signing with Penn State, had five spikes in the second set as Cambridge took it 25-22.
Penrose’s mother, Kelley Leary, coaches Cambridge and she said she was happy to see Latin Academy compete harder against her squad.
“It’s exciting,” she said. “BLA is a good program. Phuong is doing a great job. A lot of these kids play club so it’s fun. Some of my kids know their kids. He’s got some good talent in the middle, a lot of good blocking and good digging."
She also noticed Fritz in the middle of the court.
“The middle jumped pretty high,” she said. “I was pretty excited about that. I was pretty happy for him.”
Phuong said the biggest advantage to having a player who is a threat above the net is that the rest of his players don’t have as much ground to cover.
Team captain Jianyi Huang said the game gives them confidence moving forward even though they lost.
“It’s great to have Fritz on the team because we really need some hitters,” he said. “Two of our hitters left us last year so it’s really good to have some basketball players join us because they are tall and they have great potential if they get better at hitting.”
The teams will meet again at the end of the regular season.
“This is our first game together, so there’s a lot of chemistry left to be built,” Jolivian said. “I feel like we could get them next time.”
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