HANFORD – League play is back. The West Yosemite League, to be precise, and game one on Tuesday did not disappoint.
The Hanford West girls volleyball team defended their home court and continued their undefeated season with timely plays and veteran composure down the stretch.
Hanford West (13-0, 1-0, WYL) took the match 3-1 (27-25, 25-22, 23-25, 25-21), but it was no easy task as Lemoore continued pushing until the end.
“We know our league’s really strong,” Hanford West head coach Julie Coelho said. “We know with each team we have to go in, show up and play our game.”
It might have been the first game of the West Yosemite League, but everyone seemed to be in mid-league form. The players, crowd and coaches were all ready and loud.
The fourth and deciding set was a testament to the previous statement. It had seven ties, eight lead changes and the feeling of a championship on the line.
Hanford West took a quick 4-0 lead and it seemed as if it would end quickly, but Lemoore would not be outdone. Not only did the ball, but the match swayed from side-to-side until the score was tied at 17-all.
“I pulled the girls aside and I was like, ‘Look, we need to take it. Nothing hits the floor. We got this,’” Hanford West middle hitter Madison Sousas said.
The short pep talk from the Sentinel’s Volleyball Co-Player of the Year seemed to work, as Hanford West went on a 6-0 run to take a 23-17 lead and close the game, and match, on a kill from outside hitter Shelby Perez.
“I wish all games felt like this,” Coelho said. “The atmosphere’s incredible, we loved to see the school spirit every game like that. It’s so fun to play in and it really adds to the game.”
It was Lemoore trying to play spoiler as they came into the gym ready for a battle. The Tigers beat the Huskies on their home court last season, 3-1, but Tuesday night would be different.
The atmosphere was fiery and intense from the first serve and it seemed as if the 100-plus crowd only got louder as the match went on. Lemoore (8-5, 0-1 WYL) held the early lead in the first set, going on a 5-1 run and taking a 9-4 lead, which forced Hanford West to take a timeout.
Hanford West chipped away until they tied the score at 14-all and then took the lead 15-14, forcing Lemoore to now call for time.
It was a back-and-forth battle from there as neither team gained more than a point of leverage until Lemoore went on a 7-3 run, taking a 21-18 lead. Hanford West called a timeout and tied the game at 22.
The set continued to teeter until Eryn Christensen shanked a serve into the net. The next rally was called on a touch of the net and Hanford West took a 1-0 lead.
The two teams were even again to start the second set before Hanford West took a 7-3 lead with a 5-0 spurt. They would lead by as many as nine points (17-8) before Lemoore started to find their rhythm again.
The Tigers clawed back to within three, but opposite hitter Mary Schoals picked a great time to have her first kill of the game and momentarily stop the momentum of Lemoore. The Tigers were unfazed and managed to close the game to within one (22-21).
But the Huskies showed why they’re undefeated and primed for a West Yosemite League run as they finished off the set with a kill from Perez to take a 2-0 lead.
“It’s something we’ve been working on, learning how to finish games when it’s tight, knowing where to place the ball and playing smart volleyball,” Coelho said. “That’s what [the team] did tonight.”
Lemoore finally broke through in the third set and came out firing with a quick 6-3 burst. The Tigers lead was whittled down until the Huskies took a 16-13 lead. Lemoore called a quick timeout and the game seemed to be over.
Chants of “Let’s go Tigers!” were erupting louder than at any other point in the game and Hanford West countered with long drawn out chants of “Huskies! Huskies!”
Lemoore tied the game at 18 and took a 22-19 lead. This time it was different, the Tigers took the set and made it a 2-1 match.
“Our league is one of the best in the valley,” Lemoore head coach Rachel Taylor said. “[The team] had to dig deep … We need to get mentally tougher.”
Hanford West has a quick turnaround and takes on the defending West Yosemite League champions Redwood (6-2) today at 6:30 p.m. on the road. Lemoore gets a week off to regroup before facing Redwood at home next Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.
“We’re hungry for the WYL,” Coelho said. “We’ve never won league. It’s something we set as a goal, we’re a long way from that, but I think this is a strong start and it’s definitely going to bring some confidence to our game.”