MADERA – They wouldn't let go.
Brielle Hefner, a freshman, wouldn't allow it. Makinna Malady, a sophomore, wouldn't allow it. Kelsee Montagna, the pillar of a senior, wouldn't allow it.
And, by gosh, the Blue Crew wouldn't, either.
"Oh my God, I love my community so much," Montagna said of that fan group, which created an ear-piercing atmosphere in 73-year-old Joe Flores Gymnasium as top-seeded Madera rallied past Clovis North 3-2 for the Central Section Division II volleyball championship Thursday night.
It was the Coyotes' first section title in the sport in 35 years, and it took a classic finish in an equally classic venue to pull it off.
The Madera fans, stuffed shoulder-to-shoulder on the south side in a gym whose seats are elevated from the court, stood and let it rip as the Coyotes (27-8) came from 24-20 down to win the fourth set 26-24, and then 12-10 down to capture the fifth and final set 15-12.
And it was Montagna – on a night Madera struggled overall with 14 service errors – who served out the final five points of the fourth set and the final three of the fifth set.
Further, it was her two consecutive aces that gave the Coyotes a 14-12 lead in the decisive set while about sending their fans through the antique roof.
"I had to prove to everyone I could get a serve in for once," she said. "I was pretty much thinking just put the ball in play and I knew our defense would take care of it."
Before she fired her final serve, Madera first-year coach Robyn Kuene – a former Fresno State standout setter who assisted Clovis North last year – spun, inhaled and said, "Oh my God."
Then Montagna served and, sure enough, it was her defense who took care of it as Hefner and Malady teamed for a block at the net.
And it was over.
"It means a lot for us to beat a Clovis school," said Montagna, whose Coyotes, as No. 12 seeds, upset then-No. 5 Clovis North 3-2 on the road in last year's first round. "But, more than that, everyone looks down on Madera and this was about bringing our school back to life."
Montagna delivered 24 digs, six blocks, 11 kills and three aces; Malady had 14 kills; Olivia Guillen provided 34 assists; Hefner blocked seven shots; and Miranda Brunner had 13 kills for Madera, which will host a Southern California Regional match Tuesday against an opponent to be named after seedings this weekend.
Clovis North's Brittany Black, the most powerful hitter on the court, had 17 kills; Rebecca Waller was oft-dominating in the middle while collecting 12 kills; Cayli McKinney gave the Broncos many improbable chances with 41 digs; and sophomore Haley Barnes set the table with 49 assists for the Broncos, who will travel for a SoCal match Tuesday.
"Madera battled, they fought, they're a good team and they earned it," Clovis North coach Jason Powell said. "They never stopped fighting. You never know. Volleyball is a momentum-shifting game, and they got it."