Escondido, CA
Mostly clear
Mostly clear

Classical sustaining its volleyball excellence

Photo by Lenny Kerbs

One of the best though perhaps underappreciated stories about local sports excellence involves the boys’ volleyball team from Classical Academy.
After running the table last year and winning a San Diego Section title, the Caimans are right back at it in 2018, having just wrapped up a stellar 23-6 regular season that included a perfect 6-0 slate in the Coastal League. Moreover, Classical is giving every indication that it will again do some serious damage in the postseason, where the Caimans have justifiably earned a No. 1 seed and a first-round bye for the upcoming Division III CIF playoffs.
The main architect of this impressive success has been coach Jo Milo, who in just three years at the helm has transformed Classical into a legitimate powerhouse. And for those of you thinking that name sounds familiar, give yourself some props because Milo is indeed someone known to the local community having spent a 10-year tour of duty as the head man at Escondido High.
Armed with a number of bona fide athletes, five of whom intensified their chemistry by toiling on the same club teams, the Caimans can be a handful for any opponent they encounter. Their strengths are many and include size at the net and across-the-board excellence in virtually every meaningful aspect of the game. In addition, the Caimans are healthy and have been sharpened to a fine edge by testing themselves against a challenging schedule.
Though Classical has a roster of 13 with all those players quite capable of contributing, Milo generally relies on a core rotation that fluctuates anywhere from six to eight. “This is a team that is energetic and strong on our jump serves,” begins Milo. “And when things get tight, it also proves itself to be relaxed, cool and collected. If we can fully show what we have in terms of ability, I think we have a real chance to go all the way in the playoffs.”
So let’s take a look at the collection of young men who through the meshing of their own individual talents have transformed Classical into a legitimate volleyball power.
Middle-blocker and hitter Christian Nowtash serves in the role of captain and is readily acknowledged to be the team’s most dynamic performer. Expected to provide leadership and set the tone for his teammates, the 6-6 Nowtash is a superb all-around talent who can blast away (173 kills), keep the ball alive (179 digs), defend (51 blocks) and deliver powerful serves (30 aces). Nowtash is the mighty source from which much of CA’s success flows.
Senior Evan Lipe is an experienced four-year letterman who has been skillfully groomed by Milo to become an elite setter. Very coachable and someone who prides himself on being a workhorse, Lipe is supremely adept at getting his team into a flow and orchestrating the offense. His remarkable knack for knowing where to go with the ball is reflected by his hefty total of 350 assists, nearly 300 more than the teammate next on that list.
Outside hitter Jacob Champlin has truly grown into that position and offers a big presence upfront. Smart, ultra competitive and a bona fide offensive threat, the 6-3 senior ranks second in kills (79) while matching Nowtash’s total when it comes to aces. In addition, Champlin is a plus-defender as evidenced by his notable number of 138 digs.
Opposite hitter Michael Pierce is a strong and big athlete who can prove to be a wall on the right side of the court. Capable of sparking the offense as well (70 kills), Pierce has the versatility and wherewithal to be a force whether operating from either the front or back row.
The 6-3 Aaron Packer was recruited by Milo to try his hand at volleyball after the coach took note of his considerable basketball skills. Proving to be a quick study, Packer has morphed into becoming a major part of the Classical sum. Blessed with an agile body, Packer is a middle who demonstrates great net play on the attack or can rise up and execute a block (31).
Ethan Champlin arrived at Classical as a transfer from El Camino because he wished to play with his brother, the aforementioned James. This 6-1 Champlin certainly knows what to do whenever he takes to the court. Imbued with a high volleyball IQ, vocal and passionate, Champlin looms large as an outside hitter who has put up solid numbers in the categories of kills (73), aces (15) and digs (107).
Senior opposite Bradley Polancic was a starter last year but he’s really taken to his role as the first man off the bench. Capable of lengthy stays in the air, Polancic has developed into a super utility player who can do most anything from either row. Polancic’s 44 kills rank fourth on the squad.
It is at the libero/defensive specialist spot that senior Steven Richter exerts his influence. Great at reading the opposition, Richter can be a back row standout keeping the ball in play. Moreover, Richter has proven extremely valuable with his ability to advance the ball to the pivotal setter.
Junior Aidan Sutherlin is a three-year varsity performer who functions as an opposite. A strong lefty who offers a presence at the net, Sutherlin is a viable offensive player who has shown he can do multiple things when asked.
Thomas Gehman is another underclassman considered to be a key and serviceable substitute. A scrappy sort when it comes to defense, Gehman isn’t the least bit hesitant about sacrificing his body in order to keep the ball in play.
Rounding at the roster are sophomores James Duncan, Micah Salas and junior Steven Fuson, all capable of making a mark when given the chance but their full impact on the program figures to come in 2019 and beyond. Milo is banking on this promising threesome to develop quickly and become mainstays in the immediate future.
So equipped with a resourceful coach, fueled by a gifted and accomplished lineup and riding a real wave of momentum, don’t be surprised if these Caimans bring home another CIF championship when all is said and done. Should they do so, it’s hard to imagine them being underappreciated any longer.

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