Sanger volleyball drops CMAC opener to Garza

Apaches done in by errors down the stretch, drop 15-6 finale after chance to close out win slips away in fourth set

Sanger High’s Katelyn Johnson (6) and Macey Macey McNab (7) watch the flight of a hit by Justin Garza High’s Juliana Sanchez (9) during the Apaches’ five-set loss to the Guardians in the County Metro Athletic Conference volleyball opener on Sept. 18 in Sanger. (Jon Earnest)
Jon Earnest
Published September 20, 2023  • 
9:30 am

SANGER – A four-set victory was tantalizingly within the grasp of the Sanger High volleyball team in their County Metro Athletic Conference opener on Tuesday, Sept. 19.

The Apaches (7-9, 0-1) were four points from closing the match out and tied at 23 when the visiting Guardians (8-9, 1-0) benefitted from a pair of errant hits to even the match. The turn of events seemed to deflate the hosts, who were done in by a wave of strong serving and hitting by Justin Garza High School players and were overpowered 15-6 in the decisive fifth set.

The sudden shift in momentum snatched away an opportunity for Sanger to post a winning start to CMAC play after a rugged pre-conference schedule featuring matches against Division I schools Clovis West, Clovis East and Centennial.

A brief officials’ delay that was set over a substitution issue during the pivotal stage of the set seemed to break the Apaches’ momentum, but coach Sierra LeBeau acknowledged that the team needed to keep its intensity under the circumstances.

“Mentally, I think it hurt us, but we’re talking about being resilient, and we have to learn when that happens, it’s out of our control and we just have to rally and push through it,” she said. “It’s something we’re all learning because we’re a young team. I think resilience is something we’re just having to learn through the whole process.”

Garza, strengthened by the addition of transfers Janaye Walker (libero) and Al-Lani Hunter (opposite, outside hitter), took control down the stretch with serving, mistake-free digging and passing and accurate hits and digs that found the holes in the Sanger defense.

“Getting that fourth set for us was crucial, I think it really pushed the girls even more and they were able to come back and just kind of go full force,” Garza coach Jordan Lovero said. “Our serving came back, our hitting came back, it was like they started playing as a team again.”

After trailing most of the way in a 25-20 loss in the first set, Sanger’s offense and execution came alive in the next two sets for 25-14 and 25-21 victories. Strong serving by libero Olivia LeBeau and Ashley Robles combined with a balanced hitting attack culminated with a service ace from Emma Lopez to end the second set.

Junior outside hitter Presley Emmett then delivered some big hits and senior middle blocker Annika Hassan contributed with a pair of blocks in set three. A late kill by Morgan Bigham was followed at the end of the set by winning hits from Alyssa Tarango and Hassan.

Sierra LeBeau said despite the stumble to start the league, she is confident her team will be in the thick of the CMAC title hunt throughout the campaign.

“We had a really tough preseason (schedule) for this reason. And I think we came out and played the best I’ve seen because of our tough preseason,” she said. “We just didn’t finish. But that’s what I’m telling (the team). Last year, we won (league) and we lost one of our first games.”

Sanger travels to Bullard on Thursday, Sept. 21, then plays two of its subsequent CMAC matches at home against Edison (Tuesday, Sept. 26) and San Joaquin Memorial (Tuesday, Oct. 3). The Apaches will get a conference rematch against Garza on Thursday, Oct. 5 in Fresno.

Jon Earnest