Over the course of a trying season, Clovis West High volleyball coach Rhonda DeRuiter and staff decided running as much of the offense as possible through 6-foot-6 McKenzie Jacobsen was key to accomplishing their objectives.
And Jacobsen delivered big-time Tuesday night.
Jacobsen smashed a match-high 24 kills to lead the second-seeded Golden Eagles to a 25-18, 23-25, 25-20, 25-21 victory over No. 3 Buchanan in the semifinals of the Central Section Division I playoffs. The defending D-I champion advances to face top-seeded Liberty, which swept No. 4 Centennial, in the final Thursday in Bakersfield.
It was a Jacobsen block that tied the decisive fourth set 19-19.
Her 23rd kill put Clovis West ahead 23-12 and her final one provided match point for a program that has played in the past four D-I finals.
"I'm so blessed to be here," Jacobsen said. "And so thankful to my team. We just fought hard."
Clovis West (26-12) has lost seven of its 16 players to injury at some point during the season, getting the latest, Nicole Otta, back Tuesday from an injured wrist.
Now as healthy as they've been since the start of the season, the Golden Eagles got kills from six players -- Jacobsen, Lisa Armendariz, Hailey Smith, Katie Dunbar-Lowe, Taylor Oren and Sydney Rigby -- while jumping to a big lead and not letting up in the first set.
They would all contribute, with Dunbar-Lowe getting 13 kills, Oren 10, Smith nine and Armendariz seven, while Rigby finished with 36 assists.
"(Jacobsen) had a great night. She was very effective for us," DeRuiter said. "But besides that, we had a well-rounded offense and that's tough to deal with.
"This team, after all we've been through, deserves this. I've never been through a season like this. It's tough to get better in practice when you're missing a third of the team."
Clovis West and Buchanan had played a pair of five-set matches -- each winning once -- prior to Tuesday.
But the Bears (25-8) never led in the first set, pulled ahead for good late in the second, never led in the third and only briefly led in the fourth while missing out on a chance to return to the final for the first time since 2009.
Alyssa Jones had 10 kills, four blocks and 16 digs, JamieAnn Bero 12 kills, and Emma Gasman eight kills and six blocks for Buchanan, which shared the Tri-River Athletic Conference title with Clovis West.
"This has been an amazing team, I hate to see them lose this match," Buchanan coach Marian Battles said.
"They were the most enjoyable group I've coached in years."
Clovis West gets a third shot at Liberty, having lost 3-1 in Bakersfield on Sept. 20 and beating the Patriots 2-1 at the Asics California Challenge on Oct. 13.
"We're focused on what we do," Oren said. "If we do that, things should go OK for us."
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