Sanger boys volleyball loses road showdown

Late errors costly to Apaches in four-set loss at unbeaten Clovis East in second meeting this season between Division I powers

Sanger High’s Cody Coles (8) and Eduardo Gonzalez-Alcazar (6) react after Coles’ second-set clinching kill during the Apaches’ four-set loss at Clovis East High in a non-league boys volleyball match on March 5. Junior middle hitter Cole finished the match with 15 kills and just one hitting error in 28 attempts. (Jon Earnest)
Sanger High’s Cody Coles (8) and Eduardo Gonzalez-Alcazar (6) react after Coles’ second-set clinching kill during the Apaches’ four-set loss at Clovis East High in a non-league boys volleyball match on March 5. Junior middle hitter Cole finished the match with 15 kills and just one hitting error in 28 attempts. (Jon Earnest)
Jon Earnest
Published March 6, 2024  • 
11:00 am

CLOVIS – Two reigning Northern California boys volleyball champion teams met for the second time this season on Tuesday night, and the Clovis East High Timberwolves once again proved to be a small step above the Sanger High Apaches.

Taking advantage of opposition errors during pivotal stretches, the Division I title holders (8-0) extended their win streak to 30 consecutive matches by posting a 3-1 victory over NorCal D-II kingpin Sanger (14-2) at Clovis East main gym. Clovis East has not lost a match since a two-set decision to Valley Christian of San Jose at the Justin Ebner Invitational in San Jose on March 25, 2023; dominating the Central Section and NorCal D-I playoff rounds during the run.

Apaches coach Scott Okata said the Timberwolves’ precision execution was the difference on this night against his squad, which has followed its own NorCal title run with another strong start including the championship of the East County Invitational on March 2.

“They’re a well-trained team, they do some really good things,” he said of Clovis East. “We had to play pretty clean (to win), and we did in spots. I think we really felt like we should have won that third set and we kind of gave it to them.”

After the two teams traded off 25-22 decisions in the first two sets, Sanger had a 16-15 lead in Set 3 and still was tied at 20-all when the hosts got a kill from Malaki Gaffney to set off a decisive 5-0 run. A double block and two ace serves also helped close the set.

A three man wall of Sanger High’s Giovanni Valencia (13), Micah Cole (22) and Trent Navo (12) defend against a hit from Clovis East’s Brady Durham during the Apaches’ four-set loss at Clovis East High in a non-league boys volleyball match on March 5. (Jon Earnest)

Sanger again battled CE to a stalemate through much of Set 4, and pulled within 16-15 on a point-winner by Giovanni Valencia. But the Timberwolves’ constant pressure up front began cracking the Sanger block and defense and built the lead to 20-16, At 22-19, the hosts set up match point with a dink and service ace before a net violation by Sanger sealed the win.

Junior middle hitter Cody Coles had a big night for Sanger with 15 kills (including a clinching kill in the second set), a couple of blocks and just one hitting error on 28 attempts. Senior outside hitter Seth Dillon also surpassed double figures in kills while junior middle hitter Micah Cole also had some big plays at the net.

“Cody’s one of our favorite guys to work with because he’s such a good competitor, and he fights hard,” Okada said. “Micah honestly has really just started playing volleyball. We’re excited to see his progression as the season goes on, and I think he’ll look very different when we get to April.”

Senior libero Eduardo Gonzalez-Alcazar contributed some spectacular defensive digs to keep points alive, and the Apaches generally battled the Timberwolves evenly throughout much of the match after dropping a 2-1 battle in the finals of the 32-team Sanger Slam tournament on Feb. 24. But Clovis East’s senior hitting stalwarts Gurshab Singh, Brady Durham and Gaffney made the big kills and blocks when needed on Tuesday.

“We’ve still got to clean up some of our passing a little bit, which usually is a trademark of what we do,” Okada said. “This group still is finding their consistency on that.”

Sanger High’s Trent Navo (12) sends a hit past Clovis East High defender Gurshab Singh (9) during the second set of the Apaches’ four-set loss at Clovis East High in a non-league boys volleyball match on March 5. The unbeaten Timberwolves (8-0) dealt Sanger (14-2) its second loss in as many meetings this season. (Jon Earnest)

The Apaches now have a week to prepare for non-league road matches at fellow D-1 schools Buchanan (2-3) on March 12 and Clovis West (6-2) on March 14. Sanger then travels to Hawaii to compete at the Iolani Classic Tournament starting March 21-23, and after spring vacation break opens County Metro Athletic Conference play against Madera High on April 2.

Sanger isn’t scheduled to play Clovis East again this season, unless the teams happen to cross paths in the section playoffs. Last season, the Apaches dropped a five-set semifinal thriller to Clovis which then lost in the finals to the Timberwolves. Sanger then went on its run to the NorCal Division II title.

Jon Earnest
Reporter