Eagles flex muscles in regular season finale

Immanuel volleyball survives first set challenge, capitalize on efficient performance to register sweep on Reedley High’s Senior Night

Immanuel High’s Faith Bakker (14) slams a kill past Reedley High blockers Bethany Andres (13) and Jocelyn Fonseca (14) during the first set of the Eagles’ three-set sweep of the Pirates on Oct. 18. Senior Bakker finished with seven kills and six ace serves. (Jon Earnest)
Immanuel High’s Faith Bakker (14) slams a kill past Reedley High blockers Bethany Andres (13) and Jocelyn Fonseca (14) during the first set of the Eagles’ three-set sweep of the Pirates on Oct. 18. Senior Bakker finished with seven kills and six ace serves. (Jon Earnest)
Jon Earnest
Published October 19, 2023  • 
11:00 am

REEDLEY – A large and spirited crowd at Reedley High gym soaked up all the bells and whistles of the Pirates’ Senior Night volleyball matchup against Immanuel High to close out the regular season for both teams. The gifts of flowers to the Eagles’ senior players, tributes to the six RHS seniors and images of the players on the school’s new video scoreboard.

On Oct. 18, the hoopla continued into the actual match, as the neighboring city schools traded momentum, points and rallies through a highly competitive first set. But the visitors — who already had finished off a perfect 8-0 season in the Tri-County Conference’s Sequoia Division — registered the final two points to pull out a 25-23 decision, then amped up its their all-around strength offensively and defensively to finish off a sweep by scores of 25-13 and 25-17 in the Tri-County Conference cross division meeting.

Immanuel head coach Alyssa DenHartog said her team, a mix of veterans and promising young players, brings good energy every day to practice and their matches.

“We set some new goals to head into the postseason, and one of them is to have great consistent energy. It makes such a difference,” she said. “I felt that our defense and hustle was great, and then offensively we were able to just keep firing back. Reedley, to their credit, played great defense and we were a little bit frustrated.”

Senior outside hitter Faith Bakker collected seven kills and six ace serves, and served out the opening set win with sophomore Spencer Horn delivering the decisive point with one of her six kills. Fellow sophomores Lily Hughes and Addison Efird added six and five kills, respectively, and senior Julie Fino had four kills. Senior libero Allison Wood collected 18 defensive digs while setters Tori Visser and Addie Krause dished out 14 and 12 assists, respectively.

Reedley (17-18, 2-6 TCC King Canyon Division) twice rallied in the opening set, the second time coming back from a 21-17 with a 5-1 run featuring kills from senior Melissa Meza to knot the match at 22-22 and later 23-23. But as the match wore on, Immanuel’s strong serving and consistent offensive pressure took its toll and forced the Pirates into setting and hitting errors.

“We were trying to get where we got the right athletes matched up against the right athletes. We just didn’t quite get that,” said veteran RHS coach Ken Tatami, who said the team struggled through TCC playing for three weeks without starting setter Bethany Andres.

Senior Olivia Nourian and sophomore Jamilah Taylor provided some timely hits and kills for the Pirates, and senior libero-defensive specialist Ashlee Chavez kept a number of rallies going with digs along with Keilani Kim and Aryssa Meza. But the Eagles’ versatile hitting attack eventually found open holes on the floor and strong serving helped them pull away in the final two sets.

Tatami saluted his senior players and captains Chavez, Kyana Rivera and Nourian along with Meza, Charlotte Martinez and Baya Honorato for their dedication and commitment to the sport.

“They lived through COVID. They lost volleyball for a year-and-a-half,” he said. “Our seniors, two years ago, went to the state playoffs. So they’ve seen all the highs, and they’ve seen the lows.” Tatami said the team’s six sophomores need to continue to play up and get a lot of court time in to compete and a sport more dominated by athletic players.

The Central Section has its postseason seeding on Saturday, Oct. 21. DenHartog expects the Eagles to receive a high seeding, perhaps No. 3 or 4, in Division IV (the team’s base division is Division V). The Pirates, meanwhile, have a Division III base but are likely to get moved down to a lower seed in Division IV.

Section playoff matches begin on Tuesday, Oct. 24 and continue with quarterfinal and semifinal rounds on Oct. 26 and 31. Section finals matches are scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 2 at higher seed home sites.

Jon Earnest
Reporter