Clovis tops Sanger boys for D-I volleyball crown

Moua-led Cougars erupt in third and fourth sets to knock off top-seeded Apaches, avenging an earlier loss and capturing its first section title since 2019

Clovis High’s Justin Moua (5) is mobbed by his joyous teammates after delivering the championship-clinching kill during the Cougars’ four-set victory over the Apaches in the Central Section Division I finals at SHS Dean Nicholson Gym on May 9. The junior outside hitter finished with a match-high 29 kills. (Jon Earnest)
Clovis High’s Justin Moua (5) is mobbed by his joyous teammates after delivering the championship-clinching kill during the Cougars’ four-set victory over the Apaches in the Central Section Division I finals at SHS Dean Nicholson Gym on May 9. The junior outside hitter finished with a match-high 29 kills. (Jon Earnest)
Jon Earnest
Published May 10, 2024  • 
11:00 am

SANGER – Sanger High’s dream of a Central Section Division I boys volleyball championship was spiked aside Thursday night by Justin Moua and a motivated Clovis High squad.

The top-seeded Apaches couldn’t slow down Cougars junior outside hitter Moua, who erupted for a match-high 29 kills as No. 2 seed Clovis (31-4) rolled in the final two sets to post a 25-23, 21-25, 25-14, 25-19 triumph before a large vocal crowd at SHS Dean Nicholson Gym. It avenged a four-set loss to Sanger (37-8) earlier this season, and gave the Cougars their first section title since 2019.

Clovis High coach Richard Lake said his young team’s work ethic showed up in the CHS playoff run featuring victories in nine of 10 sets played.

“We only had two returning starters, and how do we grow on the court?,” Lake said amid the team’s championship celebration. “Practice is one thing, but to watch how they show up every day has been something. I’m telling you, our practices look like this. This is no different than what they do every day.”

Scott Okada, Sanger coach, said the Cougars’ execution in serving and passing was the difference in the match.

“They definitely won the serve and pass battle,” he said. “Ultimately, that’s usually what it comes down to. They served tougher and passed better. I thought we had a lot of opportunities and didn’t capitalize on them.”

The Clovis passing game enables Moua, who returned from an injury earlier this season, to launch his rocket kills from both sides of the court. He collected his 29 kills on 51 attempts with just five errors, and received complementary hitting performances from freshman outside hitter Trey Alexander (11 kills), senior Juan Garcia (nine kills on 14 attempts, three blocks) and 6-foot-9 sophomore Jackson Scarborough (eight kills, two blocks).

Sanger again was led by senior outside hitter Trent Navo, who collected 11 kills and three blocks, while senior Seth Dillon also added 11 kills and junior Micah Cole contributed in the blocking game, but the Apaches uncharacteristically struggled in serving, making a number of errors that prevented them from extending scoring runs during the match.

The high point for Sanger was the second set, when the hosts overcame an early three-point deficit and closed out the set winning four of the final five points and handing the Cougars’ their first losing set in three postseason matches. Cole slammed a kill to make it 24-21, and Clovis then sent a hit long to end the set.

Sanger held a 6-5 lead in the third set when Giovanni Valencia made a kill from the right wing, but Clovis took the lead for good and extended the advantage to 11-7 on a pair of SHS hitting errors and Moua’s pinpoint kill down the line. After a Sanger time out, Clovis got another kill from Moua and another errant Apaches hit to build the advantage to 13-7.

With the score 17-12, Clovis closed out the set with an 8-2 run featuring five kills and an ace serve. The visitors immediately took command in Set 4 by winning six of the first seven points. Sanger was able to scrape back within 16-15 on Navo’s tip kill, but a four-point Clovis run essentially ended any comeback hopes. On championship point, Moua fittingly ended the match with a thunderous spike down the middle.

“They execute really well, (and) they’re very disciplined defensively,” Okada said of the Cougars. “They’re in the right position most of the time, and that’s tough (to counter). They’re going to be really tough next year, they return basically everyone.”

Northern California regional playoff brackets will be released on Sunday, May 12. Unlike last year, the perennial County Metro Athletic Conference powerhouse Apaches won’t get a Division II spot (which they parlayed into a regional championship run) and will have an at-large berth in Division I. Playoff dates for May 14, 16 and 18.

Jon Earnest
Reporter