The Central High girls volleyball team is young, talented and appears to be hitting its stride at the right time.
And, according to Clovis North High coach Travis Herb, that could be bad news for the rest of the Central Section with the postseason set to begin Nov. 1.
“We’ve played a lot of talented teams this year, but when Central is firing on all cylinders, they are going to be a tough team for anyone to beat,” Herb said after The Bee’s section No. 3-ranked Grizzlies tore through his No. 13 Broncos 25-20, 25-21, 25-14 in a Tri-River Athletic Conference match Oct. 25.
Central (31-10, 6-3) kept alive its hopes of tying for the TRAC title while improving its playoff resume with a third straight impressive victory.
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Last week, the Grizzlies, who have only two seniors on their 12-player roster, downed then-No. 4 and perennial power Clovis West 25-22, 17-25, 25-16, 25-23 on Oct. 18 and edged No. 1 Clovis 25-22, 20-25, 25-18, 22-15, 15-11 on Oct. 20.
Central can tie for the TRAC title with a win at Clovis East combined with a Clovis victory over Clovis West on Oct. 27. That would leave the Grizzlies, Cougars and Golden Eagles all with a 7-3 TRAC record and an interesting decision for commissioner Jim Crichlow and his assistants when they meet Oct. 31 to determine seedings for the section’s five playoff divisions.
We’ve played a lot of talented teams this year, but when Central is firing on all cylinders, they are going to be a tough team for anyone to beat.
Clovis North girls volleyball coach Travis Herb on Central
“I think we’re progressing and getting ourselves in a good position for Valley,” said standout Central sophomore Makayla Lewis, who led the way against Clovis North with 12 kills and 12 digs. “The win over Clovis was a very big thing for us. We wanted to win that match. It brought is together. We put everything into it, ball up, nothing dropped. And I think that let us know we’re good enough to do whatever we want to do.”
With a deep group of front-row players including Lewis, Andria Santoyo, Maya Riddlesprigger, Makayla Riddlesprigger, Aniyah Battle and Bailey Combs, Central has not lacked for offensive firepower.
But Grizzlies coach Randy Burriss said his squad’s development in other areas has been key to the late-season surge.
“Our defensive has improved so much the last two, three weeks,” Burriss said. “Our passing, our serve receive, our defense, it’s been really the turnaround. We always had a lot of young kids who could hit, but our defense would break down at times. We had a couple tonight, but not many.”
Maya Riddlesprigger had six kills and six blocks, Allie Santoyo contributed 21 digs and Combs added six kills for the Grizzlies against Clovis North.
“We’re playing really well as a team, everyone is doing their job,” Maya Riddlesprigger said. “Honestly, this is probably the best we’ve played all season. Ever since we beat Clovis last week, we’ve had a lot of energy. We’re like really motivated to get to the Valley championships.”
Central has never won a section volleyball title.
The Grizzlies have knocked on the door each of the past two seasons, losing a five-set match to Centennial in the quarterfinals last season and a five-setter in the semifinals to Clovis North in 2014.
Central, along with Clovis, Liberty-Bakersfield and possibly even Clovis West figure to be in the discussion for the No. 1 playoff seed in Division I. Playoff quarterfinal matches are Nov. 3, with the semifinals Nov. 8 and the finals in all five divisions Nov. 12 at West Hills College-Lemoore.
“It’s going to be a crazy CIF Central Section playoffs,” Burriss said. “Because there are eight teams that can really win it. Hopefully we’re ready and healthy.”