Sanger boys volleyball reaches D-I section final

Huge night from Navo fuels Apaches past Buchanan in four sets, No. 2 seed Clovis awaits in title match Thursday night at SHS

Sanger High players celebrate a point during their four-set victory over Buchanan High in the Central Section Division I boys volleyball semifinals on May 7. The top-seeded Apaches (37-7) shook off a loss in the first set to advance to the section finals against No. 2 Clovis on Thursday, May 9. (Jon Earnest)
Sanger High players celebrate a point during their four-set victory over Buchanan High in the Central Section Division I boys volleyball semifinals on May 7. The top-seeded Apaches (37-7) shook off a loss in the first set to advance to the section finals against No. 2 Clovis on Thursday, May 9. (Jon Earnest)
Jon Earnest
Published May 8, 2024  • 
11:00 am

SANGER – A sluggish start turned into a roaring finish Tuesday night for the Sanger High boys volleyball team, which now is one victory away from a milestone accomplishment for the program.

The top-seeded Apaches (37-7), after shaking off a first-set loss, methodically defeated the No. 4 seeded Buchanan Bears in four sets during the Central Section Division I semifinals. The match took place before a loud and raucous crowd at SHS Nicholson Gym. Senior outside hitter Trent Navo had a huge night with a season-high 25 kills in the 17-25, 25-22, 25-20, 25-21 victory.

Sanger now moves into its first section final since 2016, hosting No. 2 seed Clovis High (30-4) in a 6 p.m start on Thursday night (May 9). The Apaches boys have never won a D-1 section title, and four postseason losses in the last eight years have come at the hands of the Cougars.

“I thought at the time ‘oh, we’ll get here all the time,’ and then you realize how hard it is — how tough it is — to make it,” said veteran SHS head coach Scott Okada. “The opportunity to get one (at home) is big, and we’re excited to get that opportunity.”

Sanger rallied from last year’s semifinal loss at Clovis, getting an at-large bid and then making a historic run to the Northern California Division II regional championship. And despite some struggles this postseason — including a tough five-set battle against No. 8 seed Clovis North — the Apaches turned up the heat to surge past Buchanan.

Navo, one of the team’s returning standouts, said replacing nine graduated seniors took an adjustment period.

“We had to fill all those spots and create a whole new offense, but the culture out there is great,” he said. “It’s nice to rally with all these guys and there’s no one I’d rather go to (battle) with. It’s nice to know you’re going to pass a good ball, put the ball down right and everyone’s going to do their job. It was a team effort.”

Navo was the “closer” on many pivotal Sanger points, firing rockets either to open spots or off Buchanan High block attempts that sailed out. His 25 kills (with just one hitting error) followed a 24 kill performance in the win over Clovis North. The big hits fired up the team and the Sanger fans in attendance.

“He’s been ramping up all season. And in the last few games when we needed it he’s been amazing,” Okada said of Navo. “I’m so proud of him. Early on, I think he just expected it all to happen right away. He struggled a little, and now he’s really found his rhythm and been so much more efficient.”

Sanger faced an uphill battle early, dropping the first set 25-17 by committing a number of unforced errors. The hosts trailed 13-10 in the second set before a service run from junior Giovanni Valencia moved Sanger into the lead. Junior Cody Coles (who finished with 11 kills) then teamed with Navo and junior middle hitter Micah Cole for critical hits, with Cole delivering a powerful kill to end the set.

A competitive set three finally shifted Sanger’s way when Navo hammered two kills and Cole added a stuff block for a 13-10 lead the Apaches never relinquished. With the score 22-20, Navo made a kill before Cole and Valencia teamed for a block. Ryan Diehl’s strong serve then was returned into the net to finish off the set and give Sanger the lead.

Buchanan led 18-17 in Set 4, but a Sanger kill and great dig led to a Bears hitting error and 19-18 lead. Navo then uncorked a deft two-hand redirect for a point and another Bears hit error made it 21-18. The teams swapped points to make it 24-21, before Navo finished the match with a booming drive off a Buchanan block.

Okada anticipates a competitive battle with Clovis, which dispatched St. Joseph in three sets on Tuesday.

“Clovis is really good, really tough,” he said. “But we’re excited. “We’re excited to represent the community. We’re going to prepare (Wednesday) and give it our best.”

Jon Earnest
Reporter