HANFORD — As the ball hit the floor for match point, cheers broke out at Hanford West High School. The problem was they belonged to the opposition.
The 4-seed Huskies suffered a 3-1 home loss in the CIF Central Section Division III quarterfinals to 5-seed Sierra and with it, their season comes to a close.
“We all just gave the best effort that we could,” Hanford West outside hitter Shelby Perez said. “We played as a team, we played well and I don’t think we did anything bad, it just didn’t go our way this night.”
The 25-19, 25-27, 22-25, 21-25 loss to Sierra was nothing, but a display of effort, will and determination by the girls. The Huskies grinded on every possession and made every long rally count.
It didn’t go their way on Tuesday, but the team reflected on so much more than the wins and losses on the season.
“The outcome isn’t what we wanted or expected, but we left here with our heads high and we left it on the court and that’s all I can ask as a coach,” Hanford West coach Julie Coelho said. “It was a great season, really fun, awesome team.”
The match started out positively for Hanford West (25-12, 6-6 WYL), so the letdown was all the more crushing for Hanford West. An early 5-1 lead, a couple of 3-0 runs, a late surge and a Sousa set-winner that the Huskies made it look easy. The girls were clicking and they had that winning look in their eyes.
Well-placed kills, a sense of urgency for the ball and communication helped them roll to their 1-0 lead. There weren’t many errors and they were making Sierra earn every point they got.
“We fought, we didn’t want to lose, we wanted to take it, we wanted to show up,” Hanford West’s Madison Sousa said. “We wanted to come out to win. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to that point, but we played good. We showed up.”
The second set was much more tightly contested with neither team grabbing a lead of more than four and when one did grab a lead, it was brief. There were six lead changes and 15 ties in the set, which made for wild plays.
Hanford West libero Domonique Ambers sacrificed her body multiple times for a dig or outside hitter Sousa made an incredible return. You name it and the second set had it.
With Hanford West leading 17-13, it looked like they might take a commanding 2-0 lead. But then Sierra took over. They went on a 5-0 run prompting Coelho to call timeout.
The break worked as the Huskies regained a one-point lead, but with a 20-19 lead, Sierra finally broke through. A 4-0 run put them in the lead 23-20. Hanford West battled back and a Mary Schoals block put them in the lead 25-24.
It was only appropriate that the second set would not be decided in 25 points. Sierra tied the game and ended on a 3-0 run to stun the Huskies and even the match 1-1.
After that tough loss, things started to break down. Hanford West scored the first point of the third set for the 1-0 lead, but it would be their last lead. They never held a lead for the last 92 points of the match.
Sierra went on three separate 3-0 runs and a 5-0 and 6-0 run in the third set. The Chieftains led 17-6 at one point, but Hanford West never gave in. They might have lost, but at no point did they resign themselves to Sierra.
They fought back in the third set with an 8-1 run and eventually cut the lead to 20-19. The crowd was rocking and the team was pumped, but Sierra stayed calm and took a 24-20 lead before miscommunication by Hanford West allowed a set ball to harmlessly fall to the floor for game-point. Sierra had a 2-1 lead and was looking to end it.
The fourth set was close to start again. But it was those small spurts by Sierra — 3-0 and 2-0 — runs that Hanford West couldn’t replicate. They scored consecutive points only three times in the entire fourth set.
One of those was a 6-0 run to knot the game at 19. Again, it was Sierra doing a better job of closing as they ended the match on a 4-0 run to advance to the semifinals.
“I think this was the best game we’ve played in a long time,” Sousa said. “We just needed that extra oomph to finish.”
Coelho gathered the girls into a huddle immediately after the match and told them how proud she was of their performance in the game and on the year. Tears were shed, but it’s what’s expected with a team like Hanford West. The team will sorely miss their three seniors, Sierra Ramiererz, Ashlyn Dunn and Sousa.
It was also the final game for Coelho. After eight years of coaching at Hanford West, she is stepping down saying it’s time for a break. Coelho leaves behind three consecutive trips to the playoffs, including a trip to the semifinals and quarterfinals. Not bad after her first year began 0-12 in league. The work that all of her teams have put in was exactly what was reflected on the court on Tuesday.
The future still looks bright for Hanford West volleyball as they’ll have six of their nine players returning in 2018.
“We’ll be back next year,” Perez said.