During the break before the decisive third set of the Central Section Division I girls volleyball championship, Clovis East High School coach Vicki Samarin had a simple message for her team, which held a commanding 2-0 lead Liberty-Bakersfield.
“I said, ‘Keep it up. Let’s just have fun.’ ”
And with that, Samarin sent her players back onto the court, where they danced and high-fived while the Patriots spent every last second trying to figure out how to stop the Timberwolves’ express.
Second-seeded Clovis East captured the first section volleyball title in the program’s 15-year history, sweeping No. 1 Liberty-Bakersfield 25-18, 25-20, 25-22 at West Hills College-Lemoore in the conclusion of the section’s first attempt at staging all five finals under one roof.
We worked so hard for this moment. Coach said to play hard with everything we have in us, and that’s what we did.
Clovis East senior Brittany Olivares
The Timberwolves (33-8) advanced to the CIF Southern California Regional for the first time. They open at Redondo Union-Redondo Beach on Tuesday.
“We worked so hard for this moment,” Timberwolves senior Brittany Olivares said as she was mobbed by celebrating fans. “This is just crazy. Coach said to play hard with everything we have in us, and that’s what we did.”
Clovis East came out firing in the first set, leading start to finish behind five kills from San Jose State-bound senior middle hitter Thaliana Grajeda, who finished with a team-leading 14 kills.
“We came in with the mentality that we were not going to let anything stop us,” Grajeda said. “We had confidence in ourselves.”
12-18, 13-22, 21-14, 33-7 The Timberwolves’ won-loss progression the past four seasons
Grajeda’s four-year varsity teammate, setter Christina Tran, had it working in the second set, perfectly placing two of her four tip-kills, making a block and scoring an ace for the final point.
Grajeda and Tran were on teams that went from 12-18 and first-round playoff losers as freshmen, to 13-22 and first-round losers as sophomores, to 21-14 with a playoff victory as juniors, to section champions as seniors.
“This feels amazing,” said Tran, who also contributed 30 assists, nine digs and two aces. “To finally get here and create a legacy is awesome.”
Liberty, which rallied from an 0-2 deficit to beat Frontier 20-25, 21-25, 25-16, 25-18, 15-13 in the semifinals Tuesday, opened an 8-6 lead in the third set. The Patriots stretched their lead to 13-11, but Clovis East responded with an 8-0 run that featured a tip by Tran, a kill and block by Grajeda, an ace by Abby Edwards and a kill by Madison Mossette to take control.
We had to give it all we had. This was our ultimate goal. I think we showed how hard we worked all season for this.
Timberwolves senior Thaliana Grajeda
Another of Mossette’s five kills brought Clovis East to match point. Then the Timberwolves clinched the title on a Liberty serve that sailed wide of the court.
“It’s been such a long road,” said Grajeda, who also had five blocks. “We had to give it all we had. This was our ultimate goal. I think we showed how hard we worked all season for this.”
Clovis East received seven kills and eight digs from Jocelyn Rodriguez, five kills and seven digs from Olivares, three kills, three digs and four aces from Edwards, 11 digs from Rose Vang and seven digs from Destiny Vang.
“We were clicking from the start,” said Samarin, the Timberwolves’ 10th-year coach. “We had the right tempo. It wasn’t about the end, but about making the play. We just had to make the play, and the win would come.”
Brooklyn Cheney paced Liberty (33-7) with 11 kills and 11 digs. The Patriots were seeking their first section title after finishing as runner-up in 2012 and 2008, according to historian Bob Barnett.
Regional pairings – Besides Clovis East’s date at Redondo Union in Division I, Liberty will host Chadwick (Palos Verdes Peninsula) in Division II; Independence will host Saddleback Valley Christian (San Juan Capistrano) in Division III; Sierra will travel to Alta Loma and Bakersfield Christian will host Elizabeth (Cudahy) in Division IV; Frazier Mountain will host Tarbut V’Torah (Irvine) in Division V.