Abby Edwards launched her serve, watched it bounce into the stands and began a celebration like the Clovis East High volleyball program has never experienced.
Edwards’ ace put the finishing touches on the second-seeded Timberwolves’ 25-21, 18-25, 25-23, 16-25, 15-9 victory over No. 3 Centennial in the Central Section Division I girls volleyball semifinals Tuesday night.
Clovis East (32-7) advances to the first section volleyball final in the program’s 15 seasons. The Timberwolves will face No. 1 Liberty-Bakersfield, a 20-25, 20-25, 25-16, 25-18, 15-13 winner over No. 5 Frontier, at 8 p.m. Saturday at West Hills College-Lemoore.
We did it. We’re here. Valley is next. This is so unbelievable. From where we were to where we are now is mind blowing. I can’t believe we’re going to Valley.
Clovis East High’s Abby Edwards
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“We did it,” Edwards said as fans stormed the court. “We’re here. Valley is next. This is so unbelievable. From where we were to where we are now is mind-blowing. I can’t believe we’re going to Valley.”
Clovis East was 13-22 in Edwards’ first varsity season as a freshman in 2013. The Timberwolves went 12-18 in 2012 when now senior stars Thaliana Grajeda and Christina Tran got their varsity starts.
But the program turned the corner last season, when it went 21-14 overall, 5-5 in the tough Tri-River Athletic Conference and beat Centennial in its playoff opener before getting swept by eventual champion Clovis in the quarterfinals.
This season, Clovis East captured the TRAC title for the first time in school history and won two five-set nail-bitters in the playoffs to reach the final.
“We’ve worked so hard for four years,” Tran said. “This year was our chance to make history and we’re going to do it.”
Clovis East had a chance to win in four, and held a 10-7 lead early in the set before Centennial reeled off eight straight points to take control.
The Timberwolves, however, jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the fifth set and never trailed.
“We’re not that team that gives up in the fourth set,” Tran said. “That’s not what we’re about. We’re going to fight until the end.”
Centennial (25-8) did tie it at 7-7, before falling back behind 10-7 on a Jocelyn Rodriguez kill and a pair of unforced errors.
Edwards would contribute two kills and the match-winning ace, while Grajeda hammered a kill that made it 14-9 for Clovis East, which is in its 10th season under coach Vicki Samarin.
“You have to build a culture,” Samarin said. “It’s got to be one in which they care more about each other than disliking people on the other side of the net. They have such a strong commitment to each other. They work hard when they are not feeling well and keep each other accountable. It takes time and special people to make it happen.”
15 Kills for Clovis East High’s Thaliana Grajeda in the Timberwolves’ 25-21, 18-25, 25-23, 16-25, 15-9 victory over Centennial in the Central Section Division I girls volleyball semifinals.
Grajeda, who signed last week with San Jose State to continue her volleyball career, led the Timberwolves with 15 kills and seven blocks.
“All of us are super-excited,” Grajeda said. “The hardest thing has been to keep going and keep the pressure on. We knew our ultimate goal was going to Valley. We did a good job keeping each other accountable.”
Madison Mossette added 10 kills and six digs, Rodriguez has seven kills and 12 digs, and Edwards finished with six kills, mostly on sets from Tran, who finished with 39 assists and praise from her coach.
“Christian did an excellent job of finding hitters that were open,” Samarin said of a setter who also contributed 13 digs, three kills and three aces. “Because they blocked us well.”
The Timberwolves also received 26 digs from Rose Vang and 16 digs from Destiny Vang.
Division II – No. 2 Central Valley Christian (29-13) will play for its third straight section title after sweeping No. 3 Exeter 25-18, 25-16, 25-17.
The Cavaliers, who won the D-II title last season and the D-III crown in 2013, will face top-seeded Independence in the final at 5:30 p.m. Saturday. The Falcons (26-8) beat No. 4 Garces behind 19 kills from Breana Runnels.
Division III – Second-seeded Mission Oak (27-6) will play in a section volleyball final for the first time in school history after beating No. 3 Yosemite 25-22, 25-19, 26-24.
The Hawks will face defending D-III champion Bakersfield Christian in the 3 p.m. Saturday final. The Eagles (24-7) swept No. 4 Arvin in the other semifinal.
Division IV – Jordan Falk had 12 kills, 16 digs and six aces as top-seeded Sierra (31-3) eliminated No. 5 Dos Palos 25-8, 25-15, 25-13.
The Chieftains, who also received 16 assists and two blocks from Kinlee Rix and nine assists from Maesyn Rix, advance to the championship to face No. 2 Minarets (29-4) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. The Mustangs (29-4) beat No. 3 Liberty-Madera Ranchos 26-24, 25-8, 25-22.
Division V – Lindsay Unruh had 12 kills as No. 2 Immanuel downed No. 3 California City 25-17, 23-25, 25-10, 25-3.
The Eagles (12-15) will face top-seeded Frazier Mountain, which beat No. 4 Caruthers, in the final at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Immauel also got eight kills from Annie Regier and seven kills from Ava Galpin.
CENTRAL SECTION CHAMPIONSHIPS
No. 1 Liberty at No. 2 Clovis East, 8 p.m.
No. 1 Independence at No. 2 Central Valley Christian, 5:30 p.m.
No. 1 Bakersfield Christian at No. 2 Mission Oak, 3 p.m.
No. 1 Sierra at No. 2 Minarets, 12:30 p.m.
No. 1 Frazier Mountain at No. 2 Immanuel, 10:30 a.m.