As Clovis West High volleyball coach Rhonda DeRuiter is quick to point out, a lot can happen between late September and Nov. 6, when Central Section volleyball playoff seedings are announced.
But a victory tonight at Liberty-Bakersfield would take the two-time defending Division I champion Golden Eagles a small step toward not having to leave their own gym when the postseason rolls around.
A young but reloaded Clovis West (7-1) enters the 7 p.m. match top-ranked by The Bee, its only loss (25-23, 25-20) coming against Presentation-San Jose, which at the time was ranked 28th nationally in the ESPN RISE Fab 50 poll.
Liberty is off to a 10-0 start with five wins (Centennial, Central, Bakersfield, Buchanan and Frontier) against ranked teams. The Patriots feature a pair of bombers in 6-foot MacKenzie Carter (averaging 3.8 kills per game) and 6-3 Haylee Roberts (2.9 kills per game).
"We're definitely excited for this match," DeRuiter said. "We're always looking to host the Bakersfield teams in the playoffs and not have to go down there. It will be really good to go to Liberty and play in a gym with a loud student section and a loud crowd.
"That's something we need right now. We haven't had to do that to this point in the season, so it should be a good test for us."
Despite the graduation of four-year starting setter and reigning Bee Player of the Year Melody Mandelbaum, as well as their top two hitters from last season in Ashley Ferguson and Emily Jacobson, the Golden Eagles have picked up right where they left off last season.
Shannon Leary has helped offset the loss of Mandelbaum by making a smooth transition back to setter from outside hitter, where she had 255 kills last season, while Alyssa Monteverde and Lauren Meador have assumed more prominent offensive roles.
Tonight's match is the beginning of a big week for the Golden Eagles, who travel to Las Vegas for the Durango Classic on Friday and Saturday. The challenging 48-team tournament features teams from eight states and two teams from Canada.
"We're facing a lot of really good competition, especially in the preseason" DeRuiter said. "For us, it's about getting better. We're looking forward to the challenge."