BAKERSFIELD -- Clovis West High volleyball coach Rhonda DeRuiter and her staff spent hours scouting Centennial in advance of the Central Section Division I final.
While the second-seeded and two-time defending champion Golden Eagles fully expected a fierce battle with the top-seeded Golden Hawks inside their jam-packed gym, DeRuiter said none of that advance work revealed the kind of defense Centennial would play Thursday night.
Letting very few balls hit the court, Centennial rolled to a 25-22, 25-17, 25-18 victory for its 10th section volleyball title.
"That's the best they've played defensively," DeRuiter said. "They made very few errors."
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And that was precisely Centennial's strategy, according to Virginia Tech-bound senior Alyssa Gammel, who said her team wanted to avenge last season's 25-15, 25-16, 25-22 semifinal ouster by Clovis West.
"We realized at the beginning of the year what wins games for us is defense," said Gammel, who had a match-high 19 kills. "When it's on, we can run our offense faster. We made sure our serve receives were on target, and we let nothing hit the floor."
Clovis West (28-7) held a lead at one point in all three sets, including 18-14 in the opener. Centennial (34-7) responded to the late first-set deficit by thundering kills on nine of its next 11 points to steal momentum away from the Golden Eagles, who entered Thursday undefeated against section opposition this season.
"I think our intensity could have been higher," Clovis West's Lauren Meador said. "We played hard, but at the end we let it get away from us."
The Golden Eagles led 6-4 in the second set before Centennial rallied and pulled away, and were ahead 10-9 in the third set before Gammel and Co. seized control. While Clovis West passed well, receiving 83% efficiency from McKenzie Cain, it did not hit effectively, with Meador the only Golden Eagle reaching double-figures in kills with 14. Alyssa Monteverde and Danielle Lauber each had nine kills.
"We passed amazingly well, which we felt would be a key," DeRuiter said. "But we had a hard time finding the court and putting the ball down. A lot of the time, we were putting the ball right where the defense was."
Centennial, the state's Division I champion in 1996 and D-II winner in 1995, gains the Central Section's automatic berth into the CIF Southern California Regionals, which begin Monday or Tuesday.
Clovis West, meanwhile, will be competing with the runners-up from the San Diego (either La Costa Canyon-Carlsbad or Patrick Henry) and Los Angeles (Granada Hills or Carson) sections for the one at-large berth into the eight-team D-I bracket. SoCal Regional playoff pairings will be announced Sunday.