From the very start upon entering the 2,500-seat gym at West Hills-Lemoore, Exeter High volleyball coach Samantha Hilvers had a bad feeling.
Her players seemed too much at awe of the stage – not used to the big gym, the bright lights or the big crowd filled with many vocal Garces fans.
That overwhelming feeling carried into their play as No. 2 Exeter looked out of sync and overmatched all night and top-seeded Garces won 25-14, 25-11, 25-19 to capture the Central Section Division-II championship Saturday.
“I think there was a lot of nerves,” said Hilvers of an Exeter program that hadn’t been to the section finals since winning a title in 2008. “There’s a different energy in here.
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“Even though I’ve got a pretty veteran roster, none of the girls had been to a Valley finals before.”
Garces routed Exeter in the Central Section Division-II championship and handed the Monarchs their first three-set sweep this season.
The championship loss marked the first time Exeter (32-7) was swept in three games.
Exeter’s comeback attempts were ruined further Saturday after top player and four-year starter Olivia Harden suffered a foot injury midway through the second set while attempting a block.
The 5-foot-10 Harden, who came in averaging 3.6 kills per set, did not return.
I think we came out a little scared. We knew we were playing a big team. And the nerves got to us.
Exeter senior Olivia Harden
“I think we came out a little scared,” Harden said. “We knew we were playing a big team. And the nerves got to us.”
Corrine Acosta led Exeter with just five kills.
“It’s hard when you miss a key player,” Hilvers said of Harden’s absence. “Kind of threw a wrinkle in what we normally do.”
Garces (22-10) captured its 11th section title in school history and first since 2008 during coach Kim Harper’s first season.
Perri Starkey finished with a match-high 16 kills and regularly took advantage of Exeter’s lack of an imposing blocker after Harden got injury.
“We always go into a match you want to sweep them,” Starkey said. “But doing that is always the hard part.
“Just coming out with one mindset and one goal to get this Valley championship really helped us pull this through.”