Clovis News: Sports

Sunbirds rally for victory amid tragedy

This is what champions do.

They set aside personal tragedy for two hours, overcome injuries and rally together in the clutch for yet another victory.

This is what separates No. 1-ranked Fresno Pacific, the two-time defending NAIA volleyball champion, from every other team.

The Sunbirds, two days after losing a close friend and classmate, came back from a 2-1 deficit in sets and outlasted No. 3 California Baptist 3-2 Saturday at the Special Events Center.

Fresno Pacific student Kathryn Friesen, 20, died in a traffic accident in Yosemite Park on Thursday.

In memory of Friesen, Sunbirds players and coaches wore green ribbons -- her favorite color -- and three students dressed in green T-shirts offered prayers after a moment of silence for Friesen.

Sunbirds coach Dennis Janzen understandably was concerned before this Golden State Athletic Conference showdown how his players would handle losing one of their own.

"When tragedies happen, you have to maintain some kind of normalcy," he said. "I'm sure it affected the team in a lot of ways. We didn't have a good week of practice, then Katie. I just didn't know what to expect."

Janzen got his answer with Fresno Pacific's 21st straight win over the past two seasons. The Sunbirds (18-0) are 8-0 in the GSAC, while Cal Baptist (16-2) fell to 6-2.

Senior outside hitter Tiffany Marinos, who roomed with Friesen for a year, said there was no talk of canceling the match.

"Our hearts were heavy, but to play was good for us and the fans. This is a close-knit community. It was all part of the healing process."

A spirited Sunbirds team scored the first five points of the opening set and won 25-19. Martina Gregusova, a force all match, led the charge with six of her game-high 18 kills.

But the emotionally draining week caught up to the Sunbirds. Cal Baptist stopped committing errors, pressured at the net and won the next two sets 25-18 and 31-29.

Compounding Fresno Pacific's lethargy was an ankle injury that sidelined 6-foot-3 middle blocker Lauren Albertson midway through the second set.

Cal Baptist's tall and powerful front line took advantage by pounding away at the Sunbirds. Albertson returned for the fourth set, and Fresno Pacific regained its rhythm at 13-all, pulling away and winning 25-18.

And it was Albertson, the Clovis West graduate, who gave the Sunbirds the final spark needed to close out the deciding set. With the score 9-all, she delivered a kill, a block and assist on two blocks as Fresno Pacific pulled away for a 15-10 set win.

"I was determined to come back and make a difference," said Albertson, who finished with 11 kills on 60% hitting efficiency and five blocks. "We showed again that we're a team that can come together when we need to."

Ke Ke Wang had 14 kills and Michelle Johnson 12, and Erica Adachi added 22 assists and 12 digs and Mariah Mandelbaum 22 digs.