The first practice for the Minarets Mustang volleyball team (21-10) was in early August, and at the time second year coach Karra Zamora set a goal for her team -- To win the West Sequoia League championship. That didn't happen, losing twice to Fowler in league, but the team regrouped and went on to easily win the Central Section Division V Championship, beating Kings Christian High (18-12) in three games at home last Thursday, 25-6, 25-17, 25-12.
"The girls were nervous before the game but I told everyone to take a deep breath and just play their game," Zamora said. "I told them to have fun and prove that you have been working hard all season."
The nerves didn't last long as the No. 1 seed Mustangs reeled off 10 straight points in the opening game.
"By that point the team was clicking and having lots of fun," said Zamora, who was named West Sequoia League co-coach of the year.
Kings Christian was the defending champion and the No. 2 seed in the Division V play-offs while Fowler moved up to Division VI for the play-offs.
In the championship game, senior Jordan Smith had 14 digs and three kills, Katie Grant had seven kills, four blocked shots and three ace serves, junior Tara True had nine kills, junior setter Taylor Meyer had 26 assists and Breanna Cairns had 14 digs, three blocked shots and five kills.
After the game, Smith, who hopes to continue playing volleyball at a junior college, said she honestly never thought the team would get to the section championship game.
"I thought they (Kings Christian) would be better but we just overpowered them," Smith said. " This team played well together and coach pushed us real hard all season long. It was very exciting and a great feeling to win the championship. Everyone came on the court to congratulate us after the game."
True said she lives, eats and breaths volleyball and it was disappointing not to win league, but felt not winning league made the team more motivated to play better in the play-offs.
"Losing league made us realize there were teams out there that could annihilate us. We were all putting our heart and soul into something we love with a group of girls I love and to actually be rewarded for all that hard work -- it was an amazing feeling."
Meyer, who never played setter point to this season, said after attending a Fresno State volleyball camp in the off-season she was more comfortable in her position.
Meyer called winning the championship "the best day in my entire life. The last point of the night I got pretty teary-eyed. It was crazy."
Liz Denney, a junior who has played volleyball since sixth grade, said the team "was on fire" in the title game. "It was great to win the title with my teammates and receiving medals -- It was overwhelming -- Our goal for next year is to repeat as Division V Central Section champions."
"I was honored to have such a great group of girls that were very dedicated to the sport and they actually influenced me and forced me to work harder all season long," Zamora said. "It was an amazing night and I was so happy to make a special memory for the team and the school that we will all never forget."
[The school received a large CIF Central Section plaque and championship rings will be ordered. A team autographed volleyball will be placed in the school's trophy case.
Zamora had four returning starters from last year's team (16-8-3) including seniors Smith and Cairns and juniors Meyer and Grant.
"The girls spent a lot of time in the weight room this season which increased out vertical jumps, provided harder attacks and everyone's endurance," Zamora said.
The hardest position on the team to fill was the setter, as Zamora lost her setter to graduation last year.
"That was a big lose to the team but Taylor worked her butt off during the summer and attended a volleyball camp," Zamora said. "She exceeded our expectations as our setter."
The majority of the team has been playing club ball during the off-season since they were 12 years old.
Zamora, who coached four years at Pierce High School in Arbuckle (with one league championship), north of of Sacramento prior to coming to Minarets, made a lasagna dinner for the team on campus before both games last week to keep her players together and focused.
"Two of my best batches of lasagna ever," said Zamora.
Mustangs beat Laton in semi-finals
The team advanced to their historic section championship game after beating No. 4 seed Laton in three games (25-18, 25-11, 25-8) in the division semi-final round on Nov. 13.
Meyer had 32 assists in the match, Grant had 27 digs, Smith had 10 kills Elizabeth Denney had 7 aces and Cairns had 4 blocks.
Schools that make up Division V and their enrollments are Tranquility (450 students), Minarets (415), Paramount Bard Academy (270), Laton (200), Fresno Christian (190), Kings Christian (100) and Alpaugh (90).
After seeding, the team was expected to play Tuesday at home in the first round of the state play-offs.
Season stat leaders:
Assists: Taylor Meyer: 545 (6.3 per game avg.)
Service Receptions: Jordan Smith: 406
Digs: Jordan Smith: 403 (4.6 per game avg.)
Kills: Breanna Cairns: 176 (2.2 per game avg.)
Aces: Taylor Meyer: 86
Blocked shots: Katie Grant: 62