When Zach Rama ended his high school basketball career to play volleyball at Sandra Day O’Connor, he envisioned reaching a point like tonight.
Even though Rama led statistical categories and earned numerous college offers throughout his time with the Eagles, there’s something else the longtime UCLA commit longed for: a championship.
That hope came true Saturday night, as top-ranked O’Connor defeated No. 2 Highland in three sets (25-20, 25-19, 25-19) to win the 6A Conference title and avenge last year’s defeat to Perry.
“He sets the tone,” O’Connor head coach Troy Dueling said. “He works so hard and he’s not afraid to do the little things. So you pair that with someone who can do anything he wants on the court, trouble’s happening.”
Rama’s fingerprints were all over the match, as his spikes, serves and blocks nearly hit the mark each time and helped push the Eagles through close-game situations.
But the senior outside hitter is hesitant to take full credit for his performance, which helped O’Connor finish 44-0.
“It’s a lot of my teammates who set me up for it,” Rama said. “I wouldn’t be able to do it without my setter or my other passers.”
It’s true that Rama formed a formidable combination with players including junior setter Jaxon Herr and sophomore outside hitter Finn Kearney. The group blocked shots in the first set and helped the Eagles race out to a 7-3 lead.
It’s also accurate that some of Rama’s plays changed the match.
For example, O’Connor’s lead dwindled to 12-11, but the Hawks (39-5-1) never took the lead in the first frame. why?
Part of the reason is that Rama, the 6A leader in kills (447) and aces (71), sent a rocket over the net to make it 22-18 and then ended the opening frame with a powerful slam.
“He’s a superstar,” Dueling said.
That title entails lifting an entire squad, which Rama did. With the Eagles up 18-13 in the second set, he hit a shot so low and quick that a Hawks player hit the ground to receive it. Even though it was returned, Kearney and junior outside hitter Tate Miller rose in the air simultaneously to slam the ball back on Highland’s side.
The two flexed in celebration, setting a tone that was soon continued with a massive shot by junior middle hitter Loudon Heldt. With the Eagles now up 23-18, Rama’s play sparked a sequence that not only ended a Highland comeback attempt, but also charted the path to the end of the second set.
“He’s such a great player,” Miller said. “… We all have our own talents, our special abilities, but Zack, he really stands out.
“He’s one of a kind.”
That moniker was on display once again in the third frame.
Rama going up for a slam, then faking his attempt and lobbing it to Miller, whose shot cut the Hawks’ lead to 14-13 and caused the Eagles faithful to go ballistic.
Rama gently tapping the ball over the net to tie the game at 18.
Rama sending a fast spike over the net, giving O’Connor a 20-19 lead it would never relinquish.
“He’s just a crazy good player,” Herr said. “He’s crazy talented.”
As he stood in a corner of the gym following the trophy ceremony, Rama reflected on his high school path ahead of the transition to Westwood and Pac-12 competition.
I have realized that he, and his teammates, couldn’t have asked for a better ending.
“I think this is what we all wanted, all of us seniors,” Rama said. “All 11 of us, we wanted to end up at the point.”