The Balboa Bay Volleyball Club Quiksilver under-16 boys' team almost lost out on a chance to win its first tournament of the year because of a cancelled flight.
Of all the tournaments to miss, Kevin Rakestraw couldn't believe it might be the biggest one in the country.
Joey Martino was just as stunned because he said the team worked eight months for this opportunity.
The path to the top of the open division at the USA Volleyball Junior National Championships turned out to be far from smooth for Balboa Bay. Kent Kawaguchi believes the obstacles Balboa Bay went through to get to the tournament helped it prevail.
The team almost never made it to Minneapolis, Minn. for the tournament formerly known as the JuniorOlympics.
Rakestraw, one of three local high school players on the team, said the same issue with Frontier Airlines that forced the Balboa Bay under-15 team the day before to scramble for a different flight hit the under-16 team.
"The plane had engine problems," said Rakestraw, an incoming junior at Newport Harbor High.
What unfolded in the next couple of hours was going to be problems for Frontier Airlines if it did not resolve the matter.
Tom Rakestraw, Kevin's father, said the airline was unwilling to work with the team in finding a different flight on the same day. Tom said parents of two Balboa Bay players searched for help, sending the airline into damage control.
One father used Twitter to communicate with the airline and then Kawaguchi's mother, Karen, contacted a relative who works at KABC-TV as a sports broadcaster. His name is Rob Fukuzaki.
"My mom called him and told him what was going on and that we were trying to go for the gold," said Kawaguchi, who will be a junior at Sage Hill School. "He told KABC and [it] brought out a camera guy to the airport. He interviewed the coach and I don't think Frontier wanted the bad press and it had to call corporate to get us on a plane."
Within an hour, Kawaguchi said Balboa Bay was on its way to Denver, where the plane had a stop. At one point, this is where the team was going to get off.
Tom said the airline tried to set the team up with a 15-hour bus ride from Denver to Minneapolis. If the bus made it on time, the team had two hours to prepare for its first match in the tournament on Saturday morning.
"We were excited about [the bus ride]," said Martino, a future sophomore at Corona del Mar High. "At least we'd have a chance to get there at 6 a.m. and the match was at 8."
Balboa Bay made it safely in the air to Minneapolis the day before the tournament.
Once play started, Balboa Bay was nearly unbeatable. The team, seeded seventh, surprised the field.
Balboa Bay went 9-2 and closed out the four-day tournament on top after sweeping Huntington Beach Club Adam, 25-23, 25-17, in a best-of-three format on Tuesday.
The only setback on the night was that Balboa Bay missed its flight home because the tournament ran late and the team wanted to take part in the awards ceremony. Balboa Bay deserved the spotlight after all of its troubles.
A second missed flight did not bother Martino, Rakestraw and Kawaguchi, the last two earned all-tournament honors as a middle blocker and setter.
"A lot of us didn't sleep because we were celebrating throughout the night," said Martino, who had time to recover on the flight home on Wednesday.
Balboa Bay's Tucker Pikula was named MVP, and Jake Arnitz also made the all-tournament team.
Weston Barnes, James Koci, Erick Sikes, Jackson Pries, Jimmy Webb, Bradley Hankus, Stephen Roach and Jason Willahan also contributed to Balboa Bay's championship.
Richard Polk was the head coach and Kevin Welch, a former CdM standout who played at Orange Coast College and UC Irvine, was an assistant.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun