HANFORD – Defense set the tone for offense as the Dinuba High Emperors volleyball team passed the first of two road tests to open the 2023 season.
The defending West Yosemite League champions, replacing four key starters from a 22-10 team with a solid array of seniors, used generally solid digging and defensive play to force the host Sierra Pacific High Golden Bears into a rash of errors as the match continued. The result was a 25-20, 25-21, 25-14 sweep at Sierra Pacific gym on Wednesday, Aug. 16.
Emperors coach Sonny Perez felt his squad effectively shook off opening match jitters, settling into their digging and consistent chipping routine over the net that eventually took its toll on Sierra Pacific.
“We have a really good floor defense, and our offense just has to catch up,” he said. “We were pretty aggressive at times. A lot of them are finding where they belong on the court. They have that feeling that time’s running out, especially with 10 seniors, there’s that extra pressure.”
On this night, it was two of Dinuba’s seniors who put on the pressure with solid all-around performances. Middle-outside hitter Mari Lopez delivered nine kills and also peppered the Golden Bears defense with hits from both the front and back row while Corcoran added five kills and five ace serves while dishing off a team-high 12 assists.
“Mari’s really good, and McKenzie did really well. They’re both captains, and they help lead our team,” Perez said.
Also impressing on the line was senior opposite hitter Mia Lopez (four kills, four digs) and sophomore middle hitter Cambria Alderete (four blocks, two kills). Dinuba converted on 22 of 60 kill attempts.
The opening set was a tight back-and-forth, but Sierra Pacific mistakes mounted late and Dinuba pulled away. A strong serve from Andrea Parra led to a double hit to close out the game. The Emps then rode a strong service run by Ceana Lopez to build an early 6-0 lead, and at set point Mari Lopez put away a kill for a 2-0 lead.
In the third set, Sierra Pacific held close early before Dinuba took the lead for good at 9-8. The remaining play saw a relentless hitting and chipping game force a number of Golden Bear errors. A dink set up match point from Lopez, and Brayln Almendarez’s serve started a long rally converted by a winning shot.
Dinuba will return to Hanford on Monday, Aug. 21 for a match with Hanford West High, then opens its home season the following night with a 6:30 p.m. match with Reedley High. Perez is looking forward to a solid pre-league tournament visit to the north Valley at the Stockton Classic as well as the annual Visalia Invitational Sept. 22-23.
“Very aggressive competition, it’s good for them to see it so that when we get to the playoffs, it’s not too overwhelming like last year,” Perez said. The Emperors, slotted in Division III for this year, dropped their Central Section Division II postseason opener last season on the road against Central Valley Christian.
Perez feels the West Yosemite League competition all features teams that have one or two solid players who are capable of making title runs. Last year, the Emperors went 9-1 and shared the league crown with Lemoore High.