Orange Cove volleyball advances to D-VI semifinals

Titans weather tough Orosi challenge to post three-set sweep, Sanger and Reedley earn semifinal berths in Division III

Orange Cove High’s Sienna Ruiz (3) slams a kill past Orosi High middle blocker Jasmine Lupian (5) late in the third set of the Titans’ Division VI quarterfinal sweep of the Cardinals on Oct. 26 in Orange Cove. Senior middle blocker-hitter Ruiz finished with 10 kills, including match point of the Titans’ 25-23, 25-23, 25-17 victory.
Jon Earnest
Published October 27, 2023  • 
11:00 am

ORANGE COVE – The “Battle of the O” competition began a day early, and the Orange Cove High Titans prevailed in the volleyball portion while keeping alive their hopes at a Central Section championship.

Taking control of the net in key portions of the first two sets to pull out tight 25-23 victories, the top seeds in Division VI managed to repel a challenge from rival Orosi High and finish off a sweep in a quarterfinals matchup at OCHS gym on Thursday, Oct. 26. The 25-17 final set triumph was cemented less than 24 hours after the football teams squared off at Orosi High in their annual rivalry clash.

“Every time we play Orosi, it’s really tight because they’re our rival,” Titans coach Heather Stepp said. “It’s always one of those back and forth (contests), and it’s intense and emotions are always running high. This is the only time we’ve shut them down in three, as we always seem to go five sets with them.”.

On this night, Orange Cove (20-12-1) finished the job early to advance to a Halloween night home semifinal matchup against No. 12 seed Roosevelt High from Fresno. The Roughriders (14-17) knocked off No. 4 Lompoc on the road in three sets on Oct. 26.

Seniors Sienna Ruiz (10 kills, five solo blocks), Cindy Garcia (10 kills) and Elani Rosas (three kills, five solo blocks) all starred at the net for the Titans, particularly at key moments of the match. Garcia made the closing kill in the first set victory, then closed out set two with a service run capped off as she fed 6-foot-1 middle blocker-hitter Ruiz for a seat-ending blast to the middle.

Orosi (14-12-1), which had taken the Titans to five sets in its previous visit to town in September, had the hosts in trouble on two-three occasions the first two sets behind strong net play from senior Genesis Ocampo and junior Jasmine Lupian. But Orange Cove’s relentless attack began forcing numerous Cardinals receiving and hitting errors in the final set.

Garcia served eight points while senior defensive specialist Vanessa Tristan delivered six ace serves while collecting nine service points in addition to six kills. Senior libero Giuliani Morales had nine serve receptions and nine assists while sophomore defensive specialist Kassandra Ocejo collected 13 digs off serve and dished off six attacks.

“We really had the best practice we’ve ever had (Wednesday),” Stepp said. “It just kind of set up our momentum to go into the match. They’re here and they’re ready for this. So we’re going to take it all the way.”

In other section quarterfinal matches involving area teams:

Reedley 3, Madera — At Madera, the No. 13 seed Pirates (19-18) pulled off their second straight Division III upset by sweeping the No. 12 seed Coyotes (21-14). Scores were 25-19, 25-16 and 25-18. Two days earlier, Reedley had knocked off No. 4 seed Minarets in five sets.

The Pirates now will play at top-seeded Kingsburg in the section semifinals at 6 p.m. Tuesday Oct. 31. The Vikings (19-13) survived a five-set challenge from No. 9 seed Santa Ynez on Oct. 26.

Sanger 3, Independence-Bakersfield 0 — At Nicholson Gym, the second-seeded Apaches (16-17) swept the No. 7 seed Falcons (25-11-1) in a Division III quarterfinal matchup. It was Sanger’s second straight playoff win and fifth victory in the team’s last six matches.

Sanger will host fellow County Metro Athletic Conference member Bullard High in the semifinal round at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 31 in Sanger. The Knights (25-13) defeated Porterville High in five sets on Oct. 26.

Sanger and Bullard split its two CMAC matches, with the Apaches posting a three-set sweep at home on Oct. 10..

Golden West 3, Dinuba 0 — In Visalia, Dinuba High’s season ended with a 12-18 record following a three-set loss at the No. 11 seed Trailblazers (14-17) in a Division IV quarterfinal match. The 14th-seeded Emperors came off the high of a first round upset of No. 3 seed Immanuel on Oct. 24, but were done in by inconsistent play according to coach Sonny Perez.

Senior McKenzie Corcoran had an ace serve and two kills while fellow senior captain Mari Lopez had four kills and three blocks. Golden West advances to play at No. 2 seed Fresno Christian in the semifinals on Tuesday, Oct. 31.

Jon Earnest