All-Area Volleyball: San Gabriel’s Johnson Diep is Player of the Year, coach Chris Kwan is Coach of the Year.

2011 STAR-NEWS ALL-AREA TEAM
Player of the Year:
Johnson Diep, San Gabriel, Senior, Setter
Coach of the Year: Chris Kwan, San Gabriel
FIRST TEAM
Daniel Beringer, La Salle, Senior, Libero
Garwing Lai, Arcadia, Senior, Outside Hitter
Kevin Quach, San Gabriel, Senior, Outside Hitter
Michael Saeta, Pasadena Poly, Junior, Outside Hitter
Tim Sanderson, Temple City, Senior, Middle blocker
Harrison Tang, San Gabriel, Senior, Middle blocker
SECOND TEAM
Preston Lee, Arcadia, Senior, Setter
John Phang, San Gabriel, Senior, Middle Blocker
Kenyatta Smith, Flintridge Prep, Senior, Middle Blocker
Nolan Tcheng, Gabrielino, Senior, Outside Hitter
Shane Whittington, San Gabriel Academy, Junior, Outside Hitter
Colin Woolway, Pasadena Poly, Junior, Middle Blocker

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ALL-AREA BOYS VOLLEYBALL: San Gabriel’s Diep, Kwan earn top honors

By Keith Lair, Staff Writer

Volleyball teams can have the best hitters in the world. They can have the fastest arm swing, highest leaping ability and hardest spike in the world.

But it’s all useless if those outside hitters do not get the ball.

That is where San Gabriel High School’s Johnson Diep fits in. The senior setter was able to feed his outsider hitter almost every time.

It’s why he is the Star-News boys volleyball Player of the Year.

“I get to make my team look good,” Diep said of his position. “I set them for whatever they need to do.”

But it is more than that. He has to be in the right spot to take the pass. He has to be in the right spot to set up the offense.

“He ran the show out there for us,” said San Gabriel coach Chris Kwan, who is the Star-News boys volleyball Coach of the Year. “”Every once in a while I might have to say something, but every time we put in something new, it didn’t take long for him to grasp it. He was probably the most reliable person on the court. He could run about anything we needed to run.”

And did the Matadors run. They went undefeated in the Almont League.

Seeded second in the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 playoffs, the Matadors lost only one game en route to the championship match. They lost to Santa Monica in four games.

“The season was great,” Diep said. “We accomplished what we needed to accomplish, but we fell short a little bit. But it was still good.”

The Matadors became the first team from the San Gabriel Valley to be selected for the CIF State Southern California tournament.

“It felt good because we were making history,” Diep said. “It was just a good experience.”

The Matadors traveled to Clovis to play Buchanan, which won the first-round match in three games en route to the state title.

“A five-hour trip and we obviously had no background information,” Kwan said. “If we have to do it again, we have to go up a lot earlier. It was, wow, you get off the bus and it’s `let’s play’ after sitting on the bus for so long. It was a great experience.

“There is no shame in losing to the No. 1 team in the nation.”

Heady stuff for a player who admits he did not know what the CIF-SS was when he joined the varsity team as a sophomore.

“I had no idea on what anything was,” he said. “I believed we could (win CIF this year). We just needed to see if we actually could.”

Kwan called it a phenomenal season.

“It is everyone’s dream to make it to the finals,” he said. “The ultimate dream is to win the finals. Being second twice as a competitor drives you nuts. But you couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Kwan said the coaching honor should be extended to his assistant coach, Larry Kanow, the girls varsity coach.

“We are tag-team partners,” he said. “We don’t like the attention.

“It’s all about the kids. This award is more about him and the rest of the coaching staff.”

Joining Diep on the first team are teammates Kevin Quach and Harrison Tang. Also on the team are La Salle’s Daniel Beringer, Arcadia’s Garwing Lai, Pasadena Poly’s Mike Saeta and Temple City’s Tim Sanderson.

The Matadors would not have had success without seniors Quach and Tang, either.

Quach was an outside hitter and Tang a middle blocker. Both were three-year varsity lettermen.

“I just had to get the ball to Kevin and Harrison,” Diep said. “It’s pretty easy because they can hit anything.”

Beringer, a senior libero, shored up a La Salle defense that finished second in the Del Rey League and reached the second round of the Division 4 playoffs before losing to Crossroads in four games.

Lai, an outside hitter, had more than volleyball on his mind this past season.

The Arcadia senior had issues outside of volleyball that made him leave shortly after matches and practice.

Still, the Apaches played eventual CIF-SS Division 3 top seed and runner-up Burroughs close in each of their Pacific League matches.

The Apaches reached the division’s quarterfinals before losing to Camarillo in four games.

Saeta, a junior, helped Poly to an unlikely and memorable CIF-SS Division 5 playoff run.

The Panthers lost two seniors early in the season, leaving them with only two returnees. Yet, the Panthers reached the division’s semifinal match before losing to top seed Vistamar in four games.

“We shocked everyone,” Saeta said. “Other teams thought we were crazy because we were playing at such a high level. We have such young guys. People should be scared to play us next year because we only lose one guy.”

Saeta normally plays setter. First-year coach Mike Talamantes Jr. moved him to outside hitter because of his size and experience.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve had a new coach every season and it never really worked,” he said. “It’s hard to get the guys committed because volleyball has never really been a prominent sport as long as I’ve been here. It seemed this year that everyone was really committed.”

Sanderson, a senior middle blocker, helped Temple City to an undefeated Rio Hondo League season. The Rams reached the CIF-SS Division 3 quarterfinals before losing to South Torrance in three games.

“It was fun winning league twice when we had never done it before,” he said.

keith.lair@sgvn.com