Rhonda DeRuiter said the seeds for Clovis West High's latest run to the Central Section Division I volleyball final were sown a year ago, when Alyssa Monteverde, Shannon Leary and Lauren Meador battled daily against seniors such as Ashley Ferguson, Melody Mandelbaum and Emily Jacobson.
"Our parents miss the best volleyball we play," said DeRuiter, the Golden Eagles' sixth-year coach. "We have some great practices. How you practice not only prepares you for the games, but for future teams."
That was never more apparent than this season as second-seeded Clovis West -- replacing seven seniors from last year -- reached a third straight D-I final with a 25-20, 19-25, 25-13, 25-20 victory over No. 3 Liberty-Bakersfield on Tuesday night. The two-time defending champion Golden Eagles (28-7) face top-seeded Centennial at 7 p.m. Thursday in Bakersfield for the title.
"Our girls had something to prove this year," DeRuiter said. "Because of the way we compete in practice, it allowed us to quickly grow into a solid team again."
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The Eagles, who haven't lost to a team from the section this season, almost got caught napping in the first set, trailing 20-16 at one point. But Clovis West would score nine straight points -- including a pair of kills from Monteverde -- to reach 25 first.
"That was a big momentum changer," said Monteverde, who led the Eagles with 21 kills and 23 digs. "It gave us some intensity throughout the match."
Clovis West did drop the second game before rebounding in the third, scoring the first seven points to take firm control.
"We are a team that generally doesn't play up and down," DeRuiter said. "But I think playoff jitters got to us. That's not our style. It was good to see them wake up and start moving."
Centennial earned its spot in the final with a 25-11, 25-13, 23-25, 25-20 win over No. 4 Bakersfield.
"We've been working for this all season," said Leary, who replaced Bee Player of the Year Mandelbaum at setter for the Eagles after playing outside hitter last season and contributed 45 assists against the Patriots. "We're excited to be in this situation. They are a great team, but we'll go down and play some Clovis West volleyball."