A bitterly disappointing five-set loss in the 2013 Central Section boys volleyball final left Lake Merchen determined to help return Buchanan High to the top.
So the 6-foot-3 senior outside hitter delivered the best all-around effort of his three varsity seasons while leading the Bears to their third section title in four years, a Division I semifinal appearance in the CIF Southern California Regional and a No. 3 national ranking by maxpreps.com.
The Bee's 2014 Player of the Year provided 289 kills, 55 aces, 20 blocks and 165 digs for a Buchanan team that went 36-5, including a 25-19, 25-17, 25-16 victory over Clovis West for the program's record eighth section title.
"We've had such a good tradition at Buchanan," coach John Jay said. "He didn't want to be one of those guys who loses it. He wanted to keep it going and put Buchanan on top."
Not that last year's 25-22, 23-25, 25-19, 21-25, 24-22 section finals loss to Clovis in a 21/2-hour match that featured six fifth-set match points was any fault of Merchen's as he contributed 14 kills and 11 digs.
But playing well wasn't enough to keep the loss -- which snapped Buchanan's two-year title winning streak -- from gnawing at him throughout the offseason.
"It was a little more personal this year," Merchen said. "We all felt the sting after the loss the year before. We really wanted to win it this year and prove we were the dominant team in the section."
With Merchen contributing seven or more kills in 20 of the Bears' 41 matches, Buchanan placed second at the Poway Best of the West Tournament (where he was all-tourney) and won titles at the Las Vegas Easter Classic and Karch Kiraly Tournament of Champions in Santa Barbara (earning MVP honors at both). He was also the co-MVP of the Tri-River Athletic Conference along with teammate David Wiechmann.
"He held his teammates accountable. He always knew what needed to be done," Jay said. "One characteristic that stood out was his consistency. He brought it every day. That set him apart.
"We played about 40 matches, which is more than a lot of colleges play. And there are matches where you figure people are going to have a bad one, but he never seemed to have a bad match. That built a sense of confidence in his teammates. They felt as long as he's on the court, we're good."
Merchen started playing in the seventh grade and immediately fell in love with the sport. He's been at it nearly year-round since for the Clovis Volleyball Club while also playing in grass and beach tournaments. Merchen will play for NCAA Division III UC Santa Cruz next season.
"I set the goal for myself to move on to the next level during my sophomore year," Merchen said. "My love of volleyball is still there and it's a really good feeling to know I have another four years to play the sport I love."
Boys Volleyball Player of the Year: Lake Merchen Grade: