PREP VOLLEYBALL: Sanger edged by Bullard in Division III semifinal clash

Furious rally falls short in five-set loss to CMAC rival Bullard, Reedley and D-VI top seed Orange Cove also tumble in semifinals

Sanger High’s Morgan Bigham (3) watches the flight of her hit against Bullard High defenders Brooklyn Dickson (10) and Ella Rowe (18) during the Apaches’ five-set loss to the Knights in a Central Section Division III semifinal match on Oct. 31 in Sanger. Second-seeded Sanger rallied from two sets down to No. 3 Bullard before falling in the final set in a battle of County Metro Athletic Conference rivals. (Jon Earnest)
Jon Earnest
Published November 1, 2023  • 
11:00 am

SANGER – Sanger High put up a fierce fight, but a two-set deficit proved to be just too much to overcome in the Central Section Division III volleyball semifinals on Halloween Night.

The second-seeded Apaches (17-18) climbed off the mat to square up their match with fellow County Metro Athletic Conference member Bullard High, but a run of critical mistakes in the shorter decisive fifth set resulted in a 15-8 loss to the No. 3 seed Knights (26-13) before a loud crowd at Nicholson Gym. Bullard will travel to Kingsburg in the finals on Thursday, Nov, 2, to face the Vikings, who swept Reedley in three sets.

“I’m proud of them coming back from a 2-0 set loss. It’s a tough hole to dig out from, and I’m proud of them for doing that,” coach Sierra LeBeau said of her squad. “I think that says a lot about our season, we’ve had a lot of trouble bouncing back, that’s kind of been our thing all season, and I think that shows a lot of growth for our team. We just couldn’t finish.”

Bullard coach William Staley said his team responded to the challenge against a familiar CMAC foe that had swept his team in three sets just two weeks earlier.

“We know (Sanger) well, because we play them in league, so we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said, “We thought that we could take some advantages, and we also got one of our better players back (Brooklyn Dickson), and having her back was a key.”

Bullard relied on solid serving and hitting to post 25-21 and 25-15 wins in the opening two sets. Dickson, freshman Ella Rowe and middle hitter Rosie Ratanna all contributed along with strong hitting from co-captain Annika Ramirez.

After the second set, LeBeau sat at the bench and allowed the players to have a self-huddle. Seniors Morgan Bigham and Alyssa Tarango addressed the team with impassioned motivational words, and the Apaches responded the next two sets.

Junior opposite-middle hitter Presley Emmett provided a spark off the bench, and Tarango and fellow senior Annika Hassan made big hits at the net. A thunderous kill by Hassan closed out set three at 25-16, and a strong serve by Ashley Robles forced a setting error by Bullard as Sanger pulled out a 25-23 thriller to square the match.

In the decisive fifth set to 15, Bullard broke a 3-3 tie to take the lead for good. Ramirez served a series as the visitors opened up a 9-5 lead. Ramirez then took over down the stretch with four decisive kills as Sanger’s passing game also struggled.

“She is next level, she’s very much the heart and soul of our team,” Staley said of senior outside hitter Ramirez. “Just from an emotional standpoint, she’s also very crucial to our team from the service line to attacking offensively.”

LeBeau said Sanger’s setting and passing errors were signs of a young team.41

“I lost eight seniors last year, they were all starters (level), so I only had two returners on the court right now,” she said, but praised the team’s strong second half of the season. “I told the girls over and over again to be resilient and to trust the process, and they did just that.”

LeBeau the team has a solid group of juniors coming back, and also has some freshmen who contributed well during the season.

In other semifinal matches:

Kingsburg 3, Reedley 0 — At Kingsburg, a Division III postseason run for the No. 13 seed PIrates (19-19) ended in a semifinal round sweep at the hands of the top-seeded Vikings (20-13). Reedley had posted a pair of road playoff victories, upending No. 4 Minarets (five sets) and No. 12 Madera (three sets).

It was Kingsburg’s second victory over Reedley this season, as the Vikings early swept the Pirates in a Tri-County Conference cross division match on Sept. 18.

Roosevelt 3, Orange Cove 1 — At Orange Cove, the Division VI top seed Titans (20-13-1) saw their season end in the semifinal round when No. 13 seed Roosevelt (15-17) won three straight after an opening set loss. Scores were 21-25, 25-23, 25-19 and 25-12..

“These girls played their hearts out this season, and I couldn’t be prouder of what they accomplished,” coach Heather Stepp said of Orange Cove, which captured the outright East Sequoia League championship. “I have an amazing group of young ladies that are leaders on and off the court.”

Reedley High players huddle with coach Ken Tatami following the Pirates’ three-set loss at top seed Kingsburg High in the semiifinal round of the Central Section Division III playoffs on Oct. 31. (Danny Jimenez)
Jon Earnest
Reporter