The defending champion is back.
So is its marquee player.
Clovis High’s pursuit of a third straight Clovis Volleyball Challenge title will be led by Taylen Ballard, the BYU-bound outside hitter who has returned to action after missing the Cougars’ final 10 matches last season with an ankle injury.
The two-day, 25-team tournament that draws 13 of The Bee’s Top 20 teams in the Central Section begins at noon Friday with pool play and concludes with the final at 4 p.m. Saturday at Clovis High.
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“She’ll tell you she’s not playing her best yet, but she’s playing really well,” Cougars coach Rich Lake said. “She’s doing great.”
Ballard fractured her ankle in the third set of Clovis’ Tri-River Athletic Conference-opening five-set loss to eventual section Division I champion Clovis East last season. Ballard led the section in kills at the time of the injury with 380, averaging 6.1 kills per set.
Clovis went from 20-9 and a favorite to repeat as TRAC and D-I champs to 23-17, a fifth-place finish in the TRAC and a first-round playoff exit without Ballard, who was named one of the top 50 juniors in the nation last season by prepvolleyball.com.
“We’re looking for her to pick up where she left off and take us a little further,” Lake said. “And she’s going to have more help around her this year, too. We have kids who got more experience last year like Keri Leake and Erin Mossette, two girls who had to lead once Taylen got hurt. And they are much better because of the experience.”
In addition to The Bee’s top-ranked Cougars, the Clovis Volleyball Challenge features No. 2 Central, No. 4 Liberty-Bakersfield, No. 8 Bakersfield Christian, No. 9 Centennial, No. 10 Stockdale, No. 11 Central Valley Christian, No. 12 Garces, No. 13 Clovis North, No. 14 Redwood, No. 15 Bakersfield, No. 16 Exeter and No. 17 Mission Oak. The tournament also includes section schools East Bakersfield, Mt. Whitney, Woodlake, Dos Palos, Bullard and Tehachapi as well as Riverside Poly-Riverside, Bishop Gorman-Las Vegas, Heritage-Brentwood, Granada Hills, Merced and Salinas from outside the section.
Section expansion? – Eight Southern Section schools from the Central Coast – Arroyo Grande, Mission Prep-San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles, Pioneer Valley-Santa Maria, Righetti-Santa Maria, San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria and St. Joseph-Santa Maria – have applied for membership in the Central Section beginning in 2018-19.
And a ninth school, Morro Bay, is considering joining the group, according to section Commissioner Jim Crichlow.
They called us last year, right about now, and said ‘We’re interested in joining the Central Section, what do you guys think?’ And in a lot of ways, it makes sense because they are a lot closer to us than downtown Los Angeles or Palm Springs or something.
Central Section Commissioner Jim Crichlow on potential additions of Central Coast schools
Their request comes with two stipulations: No restrictions or mandatory waiting period be placed on the eight schools from hosting playoff games and the eight be placed in their own separate “area” for purposes of league realignment.
When five schools from the Desert League joined the Central Section in 2013, they were not allowed to host a playoff game for three years. A sixth Desert League school – Desert-Edwards AFB – has joined the section this year and won’t be allowed to host a playoff game for three years.
Crichlow said he would poll potentially affected section schools to see if travel mandates need to be placed on the Central Coast schools (all would play in Divisions I, II or III) should they be accepted.
The section’s board of managers will formally hear the request at their meeting in October and have three months to discuss issues and ramifications before voting in January. A majority vote of the 41 board of managers is needed for passage.
Salles takes over Memorial baseball – A little more than two years removed from leading Fresno Pacific to the National Christian College Athletic Association baseball title, J.D. Salles has been named the head coach at Memorial.
Salles joins the Panthers after going 10-18-1 overall and 3-12 in Central Sequoia League play during his first season as a head coach at Kingsburg. Salles replaces Casey Padgett, who went 12-18 overall and 5-11 in the County/Metro Athletic Conference in his only season with the Panthers.
Salles starred at Clovis West High and was the TRAC Co-Player of the Year and an All-Bee selection in 2009 before moving on to play for Fresno State and then Fresno Pacific.
The son of former Fresno State pitcher and Chicago Cubs minor-leaguer John Salles, J.D. Salles finished his playing career in 2014 at Fresno Pacific as the school’s career leader in ERA (2.87) and second in strikeouts (173).
Clovis Volleyball Challenge
- Pool A, Court 1, North Gym: Noon, East Bakersfield vs. Clovis; 1 p.m., Garces vs. Redwood; 2 p.m., Clovis vs. Riverside Poly; 3 p.m., Redwood vs. East Bakersfield; 4 p.m., Clovis vs. Garces; 5 p.m., Riverside Poly vs. East Bakersfield; 6 p.m., Redwood vs. Clovis; 7 p.m., Garces vs. Riverside Poly
- Pool B, Court 2, North Gym: Noon, Mt. Whitney vs. Bishop Gorman-Las Vegas; 1 p.m., Bakersfield Christian vs. Stockdale; 2 p.m., Bishop Gorman vs. Heritage-Brentwood; 3 p.m., Stockdale vs. Mt. Whitney; 4 p.m., Bishop Gorman vs. Bakersfield Christian; 5 p.m., Heritage vs. Mt. Whitney; 6 p.m., Stockdale vs. Bishop Gorman; 7 p.m., Bakersfield Christian vs. Heritage
- Pool C, Court 3, South Gym: Noon, Dos Palos vs. Bakersfield; 1 p.m., Woodlake vs. Exeter; 2 p.m., Bakersfield vs. Granada Hills; 3 p.m., Exeter vs. Dos Palos; 4 p.m., Bakersfield vs. Woodlake; 5 p.m., Granada Hills vs. Dos Palos; 6 p.m., Exeter vs. Bakersfield; 7 p.m., Woodlake vs. Granada Hills
- Pool D, Court 4, South Gym: Noon, Bullard vs. Central; 1 p.m., Central Valley Christian vs. Centennial; 2 p.m., Central vs. Merced; 3 p.m., Centennial vs. Bullard; 4 p.m., Central vs. CVC; 5 p.m., Merced vs. Bullard; 6 p.m., Centennial vs. Central; 7 p.m., CVC vs. Merced
- Pool E, Court 5, South Gym: Noon, Mission Oak vs. Liberty-Bakersfield; 1 p.m., Tehachapi vs. Clovis North; 2 p.m., Liberty vs. Salinas; 3 p.m., Clovis North vs. Mission Oak; 4 p.m., Liberty vs. Tehachapi; 5 p.m., Salinas vs. Mission Oak; 6 p.m., Clovis North vs. Liberty; 7 p.m., Tehachapi vs. Salinas
- Pool A: 9 a.m., East Bakersfield vs. Garces; 10 a.m., Riverside Poly vs. Redwood
- Pool B: 9 a.m., Mt. Whitney vs. Bakersfield Christian; 10 a.m., Heritage vs. Stockdale
- Pool C: 9 a.m., Dos Palos vs. Woodlake; 10 a.m., Granada Hills vs. Exeter
- Pool D: 9 a.m., Bullard vs. CVC; 10 a.m., Merced vs. Centennial
- Pool E: 9 a.m., Mission Oak vs. Tehachapi; 10 a.m., Salinas vs. Clovis North
11 a.m., First-round; 1 p.m., second round championship and consolation; 3 p.m., championship and consolation semfinals; 4 p.m., championship and consolation final