HANFORD — Lemoore closed out the volleyball season with an emphatic 3-0 sweep of Hanford and looked primed for the playoffs on Thursday night.
“I’m happy where we are,” Lemoore coach Rachel Taylor said. “Right now we’re playing within ourselves. We’re ready to go, we keep the errors down, we go hard at everything [and] I think we’ll be all right.”
Things seem to be clicking at the right time for Lemoore (17-11, 6-6 WYL), who won five of their last seven league matches, including a huge 3-0 win over second-place Golden West (22-9, 9-3 WYL).
Last year, the Tigers made it to the CIF Central Section Division II quarterfinals before giving way to eventual champion Garces Memorial.
“Division II is tough,” Taylor said. “If we can get to that second round I’ll be happy, but we’re going to have to play well in that first round. There’s no time for errors there.”
Before the match, Hanford celebrated senior night with balloons, flowers, presents and definitely some tears. The Bullpups were saying goodbye to eight seniors who will move on from the team.
“I’m going to miss their support of me as their coach,” Hanford coach Lauren De La Cruz said. “It’s hard coming and trying to build a program. I learn something new every year and I feel like these girls, they’ve always supported me. They’ve just been great to coach.”
Lemoore took the match 25-21, 25-9, 25-16, but not without some resistance in the first set. Riding the momentum of the ceremonious night and with their home crowd behind them, Hanford (4-22, 0-12 WYL) — who won three sets all season — played one of their best sets of the year.
The Tigers struck first and took the early 8-3 lead with a 5-0 run and eventually led 11-4. The Bullpups would not be outdone as they went on their own 4-0 run and won seven of the next eight points to slice the deficit to one.
After a couple rallies, Hanford trailed 14-13 — and then Lemoore took over. The Tigers went on a blistering 6-0 run and went up 22-15. Hanford kept plugging away and trailed 23-21. With the first set in the balance, Lemoore did what great teams do and closed out the set.
“We decided that we were going to bond as a team,” Shelby Saporetti said. “We were going to fight and we weren’t going to let them get a set on us because we wanted to prove ourselves and prove that we’re good enough to go into playoffs.”
A 3-0 run punctuated by Aiyana Moore’s finish gave Lemoore the 1-0 lead and stole the momentum Hanford had built. The Tigers were more than in control for the last two sets, leading 9-3 early in the second set and 16-7 in the third.
Saporetti, a junior, led the team with 11 kills and did a bit of everything, adding two blocks and three digs. Senior libero Leah Rodrigues had a team-high 26 digs and was a defensive presence all night hitting the floor time after time.
Moore had eight kills, two blocks, two aces and a dig on an excellent all-around night. Kele Weedman also finished the season strong with four kills, a team-high four aces and five digs.
Aside from it being Hanford’s senior night, Lemoore’s Taylor was also celebrating something. It was her last West Yosemite League game as the coach will be retiring following the season.
“This is it for me,” Taylor said. “These are a great set of girls. Nine seniors … it was a good time for me to go. I’ve had a great career at Lemoore High School. I’m happy.”
Taylor, who’s coached Lemoore for eight years, leaves big shoes to fill with two WYL championships and a runner-up finish in the Division II championship, but is confident the program is set for the next person to come in and take over.
Hanford will be looking to rebuild next season and will definitely have a young team with eight seniors leaving.
“A lot of players are moving up, it’s going to be young,” De La Cruz said. “But the heart that my frosh team and my JV team has I’m excited to work with. Their work ethic and their just drive to be good at volleyball, I’m really excited about that.”
Lemoore continues on and will get ready for the playoffs. The bracket will be released sometime next week and the Tigers will be looking to make a run with Taylor one last time.