It was Hailey Smith's turn to shine.
And the senior delivered in a big way for the Clovis West High volleyball team.
Stepping into the role of go-to hitter while also excelling in the back row, Smith powered a third straight Central Section championship run for a Golden Eagles program that has now won five of the past six Division I titles.
"I knew there would be a lot of pressure for me to execute," Smith said. "I knew it would be difficult, but I was ready for it."
The senior outside hitter entered the season as the Golden Eagles' most experienced returning hitter, and one of only two players who were season-long contributors to the team's 2012 championship.
So Clovis West coach Rhonda DeRuiter turned to Smith for offense and she produced a team-leading 416 kills. She also came through on defense with 566 digs, to go along with 613 serve receives against only 31 errors and 22 solo blocks. She follows McKenzie Jacobson (2012), Shannon Leary (2010), Melody Mandelbaum (2009) and Mikayla Pierce and Lauren Albertson (2008) as Golden Eagles named The Bee's Player of the Year.
"She really grew physically and emotionally as a player," DeRuiter said. "She got comfortable in that role where the ball was coming to her in big moments, and she put it away.
"She was definitely a potential kid coming into the season, everyone knew what an athlete she was. But what she perfected this season was playing at that high level. Not only was she our best offensive player, but one of our best defenders and passers as well."
It wasn't always an easy transition to go-to player for Smith, who played more of a complementary role last season to primary hitters Jacobsen and fellow seniors Taylor Oren and Katie Dunbar-Lowe. Smith said DeRuiter was very demanding along the way.
"Coach DeRuiter was really on me in practices to minimize my errors," said Smith, the Tri-River Athletic Conference MVP after leading the Golden Eagles to a fourth straight league crown. "She was harder on me than most of the other girls. There were some stressful days. But in the end, I'm thankful for all she's done for me. I wouldn't be the player I am without her."
At no moment was Smith better than when Clovis West needed her most — in the section final.
Smith had a career-high 25 kills to go along with 23 digs and 25 of 26 errorless serve receives in the second-seeded Golden Eagles' 25-15, 25-20, 13-25, 25-17 victory over rival and fourth-seeded Clovis that advanced them to the CIF Southern California Regionals.
"To be able to perform at my best in that game was really important to me," Smith said. "We sat down before it started and decided we were not going to accept losing. We each gave 100% to winning that game, and it paid off."
The performance impressed DeRuiter.
"She looked like she prepared all season for that match," DeRuiter said. "She was in it to win it. She wanted to touch the ball, whether it was on receive or offense. In timeouts, we were designing plays just for her. She was finding open spots on the floor all night."
Player of the Year: Hailey Smith
School: Clovis West Grade: Senior
Qualifications: Outside hitter led Golden Eagles to their third straight Central Section Division I championship and fifth title in six years by producing a team-leading 416 kills to go along with 566 digs, 613 serve receives against only 31 errors and 22 solo blocks. The Tri-River Athletic Conference MVP had a season-high 25 kills and 23 digs in second-seeded Clovis West's 25-15, 25-20, 13-25, 25-17 victory over rival and fourth-seeded Clovis in the section final. She's undecided on college plans, but playing at Fresno City is an option if an opportunity at a four-year school doesn't materialize.
Coach says: "She's a quietly fierce competitor. She's not going to talk through the net. But when it comes down to it, she's willing to do whatever it takes to win. And in those stressful moments, she learned to play point for point." — Clovis West coach Rhonda DeRuiter
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6103, firstname.lastname@example.org or @NickG_FB on Twitter.