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SELMA - After last year’s postseason run, the Selma volleyball team aims to make another playoff appearance, but the Bears will have to reach their goal in a new division with a new look team.

“We have some key girls that are going to step in as captains and leaders that are going to bring that championship mentality with all these new players,” Selma head coach Montana Kaufmann said.

The Bears will move up to Division IV after two-straight seasons of deep playoff runs. In Kaufmann’s past two years as coach - under her maiden name Lowe - Selma clinched a berth in the Central Section Division V championship game last season and advanced to the semifinals in the same division in 2017.

By moving up a division with a group featuring a mix of newcomers and returners, Kaufmann said she has high expectations for the seniors to lead the team this season.

“We are expecting a lot out of our seniors,” Kaufmann said. “We some key girls that played club this past year and they have improved tremendously ...but we have a few girls that are stepping into those holes and are surprising us.”

Last season, the Bears made an improbable run to the Valley championship as the No. 14 seed in Division V. Selma entered the playoffs at 9-23 and defeated the No. 3 (Orosi), No. 6 (Kings Christian), and No. 2 (Frazier Mountain) seeds in that order en route the title game against eventual champion Washington Union. The Bears fell 3-1 to the Washington Union Panthers, but the girls’ season didn’t end there.

Selma appeared in the CIF State playoffs for the first time in the program’s history by finishing in the top two in it’s division. As the No. 9 seed in the Division V state bracket, the Bears swept No. 8 La Puente 3-0 in the first round for Selma’s first state playoff win. The Bears season ended after a 3-0 loss to top-seeded - and eventual state runner-up - El Camino Real in the next round. Washington Union defeated El Camino Real in the state title game.

Selma ended the 2018 season at 13-25 overall and 0-12 in Central Sequoia League play. The CSL schedule has been tough for Kaufmann’s team with a combined one win during her coaching tenure. In 2017, the Bears were 1-9 in CSL play with that league win coming against Dinuba. The Bears were the CSL’s only Division V team in the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

This year, Selma and Kingsburg are the league’s only Division IV teams while Exeter is in Division I, Central Valley Christian is in Division II, and Hanford West and Immanuel are in Division III.

With another tough CSL schedule ahead, Kaufmann does expects her team’s league win total to increase this season.

“We have a lot of new bodies. It’s a really different team dynamic,” Kaufmann said. “Hopefully, we could get some league wins and make some moves on the rankings because last year we were ranked 14th and got all the way to second.”

Senior setter Mia Salinas said she expects this season’s squad to have improved chemistry and execute late in games.

“Last year, we got close to winning games and we would fall through in the end,” Salinas said.

Junior outside hitter Marissa Cerda agreed with Salinas that team chemistry will be the key to success on the court.

“To work together and push each other,” Cerda said. “Support each other.”

According to MaxPreps, Cerda was fourth on the team in kills at 101 in 2018. Senior middle blocker/outside hitter Danielle Leon, had the third best amount of kills at 122 last season. That number should increase for both players with the Bears’ top two kill leaders from last season not returning. Gurleen Brar (217 kills) graduated from Selma High and Clarissa Moreno (191), an incoming senior and Boise State softball commit, didn’t return to the team this year.

With a different lineup and rotation that will include some returners with varsity and playoff experience, Salinas said it’ll be the seniors’ responsibility to provide leadership this season.

“A lot of our starters were seniors, so they held us together last year,” Salinas said. “I hope the seniors this year, we have a small bunch, that we could step it up and lead the team this year because a lot of our team is underclassmen.”

After Selma scrimmages at Hoover High on Aug. 16, the Bears will officially start its season on the road against Fresno High on Aug. 20. Selma will play its first home game against Sierra High on Aug. 27.

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Jeremiah Martinez can be reached at 559-583-2413 or jmartinez@hanfordsentinel.com

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