Thaliana Grajeda and Christian Tran took their lumps as freshmen and sophomore varsity volleyball players at Clovis East High, long a bottom-feeder of the Tri-River Athletic Conference.
But the 40 combined losses they experienced those first two seasons were a distant memory Tuesday.
With Grajeda delivering 13 kills and three blocks, and Tran making 37 assists, The Bee’s Central Section fifth-ranked Timberwolves defeated No. 4 Clovis West 25-23, 25-12, 20-25, 25-22 to secure at least a tie for the first girls volleyball league title in school history.
Clovis East (29-7, 8-1) can clinch the title outright Thursday with a win at No. 6 Central.
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“We came in thinking this had to be the year we change everything,” Grajeda said. “We had to play for each other.”
The Timberwolves avenged a 21-25, 25-23, 25-20, 25-15 loss in the Golden Eagles’ gym on Oct. 15.
“It definitely feels great that we were able to come back and show them what we’re capable of,” Tran said. “We did not come into this match scared. We came with intensity, and that helped us a lot.”
We came in thinking this had to be the year we change everything.
Clovis East four-year varsity player Thaliana Grajeda after the Timberwolves clinched at least a share of the school’s first Tri-River Athletic Conference volleyball title
Grajeda and Tran, now seniors, were on teams that went 12-18 their freshmen year and 13-22 in their sophomore season.
But the tide started to turn last season, when Clovis East went 21-14, including 5-5 in the TRAC, and won a Division I playoff game against perennial Bakersfield-area power Centennial.
Grajeda and Tran were joined this season by a trio of third-year varsity players in Abby Edwards (10 kills and three digs vs. Clovis West), Brittany Olivares (six kills, 13 digs) and Madison Mossette (nine kills, six digs, four aces), and have received key contributions from second-year players Rose Vang (14 digs) and Jocelyn Rodriguez (six kills, 17 digs).
“Maybe (Grajeda and Tran) weren’t ready for varsity as freshmen, but we knew they were special,” Timberwolves coach Vicki Samarin said. “And we knew what was coming behind them. It was an intentional build.
“I love to look at the kids. They are so happy. They need to feel that success, and they deserve it.”
Maybe they weren’t ready for varsity as freshmen, but we knew they were special.
Clovis East coach Vicki Samarin on four-year varsity players Thaliana Grajeda and Christina Tran, who helped the Timberwolves clinch at least a tie for the school’s first TRAC girls volleyball title
Clovis East has now put itself in the discussion for the No. 1 seed in the section’s Division I playoffs.
The Timberwolves’ only loss to section opposition in more than a one-set match was against Clovis West. They also lost to Frontier 25-21 in a one-setter at the San Luis Obispo tournament. Clovis East had previously beaten the Titans 19-25, 25-19, 15-25, 25-21, 15-9 in Bakersfield.
Southwest Yosemite League outright champion Liberty-Bakersfield (30-6) is the other top contender for the No. 1 seed. The Patriots have losses to Clovis West and TRAC third-place Clovis on their résumé.
Seedings for the section’s five playoff divisions will be announced Friday.
“It’s definitely going to be a battle,” Grajeda said. “But if we have the right mentality, we have a good chance of winning it all.”
Clovis West (27-13, 7-2) received 18 kills from Micah Hébert and 12 kills from Sarah Armendariz.
“Unfortunately, this wasn’t surprising,” Golden Eagles coach Rhonda DeRuiter said. “We have not been practicing well, showing no intensity.
“We went back to what we struggled with early, and that’s tons and tons of unforced errors.”