BAKERSFIELD -- The road to the Central Section Division I volleyball championship very likely will be traveling through west Bakersfield.
In a match sure to have major playoff seeding implications come November, The Bee's section top-ranked Liberty shook off early jitters to defeat visiting defending D-I champion and second-ranked Clovis West 25-27, 25-14, 25-23, 25-20 on Thursday.
Bolstered by a lineup featuring eight players who saw action last season -- including standout setter/hitter Kiki Robinson and middle blocker/outside hitter Haylee Roberts -- Liberty is off to a 14-2 start without a loss to section opposition. With wins over No. 3 Buchanan, No. 6 Central Valley Christian, No. 9 Clovis East and now Clovis West, the Patriots have established themselves as the class of the section.
"We knew this was our only opportunity to take care of seeding in November," said coach Lean Slayton, who directed the Patriots to a CIF State D-II title in 2002. "But that said, our league is so tough. We have to be ready for Oct. 2 (when Liberty opens Southwest Yosemite League play against Bakersfield.)"
Clovis West (7-6) rode six kills from McKenzie Jacobsen in a first set that featured seven lead changes before Taylor Ferdinandsen's ace finished off the visitor's only win.
The Golden Eagles led 13-11 in the second set before Liberty reeled off 11 straight points to take command. Robinson led the charge with four kills and a block during the run.
Clovis West never led the rest of the way, but was never far behind, either.
The Golden Eagles tied the third set 23-23 on a kill by sophomore Jenna Goldsberry -- an addition to the varsity roster Thursday -- before Liberty finished it off with a kill from Roberts and a Clovis West ball-handling error.
After falling behind 11-4 early in the fourth set, Clovis West forged a 17-17 tie on a Katie Dunbar-Lowe kill, but was unable to hold off the Patriots, who received the match-winning kill from Robinson.
"They are a good team," Clovis West's Lisa Armendariz said. "I hope we get a chance to play them again."
Jacobsen and Dunbar-Lowe paced the Golden Eagles' offense with 13 and 12 kills, respectively, and Emily Minugh had 31 assists and 12 digs.
Clovis West played without outside hitters Taylor Oren and Hailey Smith, who were injured over the weekend at the Durango Classic in Las Vegas.
"We have some depth I didn't realize we had," Golden Eagles coach Rhonda DeRuiter said. "We had girls step up under pressure with very little practice time."
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