Generations of Chieftain fans and family helped fill the West Hills College Event Center in Lemoore last Saturday to watch their hometown team Sierra High School (32-3, 9-1 NSL) come from behind to beat Minarets High School (30-5, 10-0 WSL) for the CIF Central Section D-IV volleyball championship.
Many of those fans had played Chieftain volleyball, and now it was time for their daughters, nieces, and little sisters to win a Valley championship, the school’s sixth, and first since 1999. Sierra lost in the section semifinals the past two seasons.
The Mustangs were playing for their first D-IV title after winning consecutive D-V titles in 2013 and 2012.
Amanda Lopez-Thompson, in her fourth year as head coach for the No. 1 seed Chieftains, took the reins of the program when many of this year’s players were freshman. At that time, Lopez predicted a title for her talented group.
Saturday she fulfilled her promise, coming from the brink of defeat - dropping the first two sets in the match (25-23, 25-19) - only to rally her team to come back and win the next three sets (25-22, 25-20, 15-12) for the title, and a trip to the state finals.
The No. 2 seed Mustangs, coached by Jessica Carter, played aggressive ball in the first two sets, but with her Chieftains on their heels, Lopez and her squad came out with a vengeance in the third set, jumping out to a quick 5-0 lead, and extending it to 10-3 before the Mustangs, behind senior Carlee Boomer, closed the gap to 12-8 Sierra.
Holly Walsh recorded an ace and helped Minarets stay within striking distance, but it wasn’t enough, as Sierra started their comeback with the 25-22 win, followed by the 25-20 win in the fourth set.
Behind a Sierra crowd that outnumbered Minarets fans five to one, the gym became deafening as the two teams faced-off in the fifth set (played to 15 instead of 25).
The teams traded points with Minarets taking an 8-7 lead, but Sierra rebounded to tie the score at 10. The game featured long volleys as each team battled for the title at stake. Sierra would go on to beat Minarets 15-12 for the title. It was a testament to will and fortitude as the Chieftains rallied for the amazing comeback.
Jordan Falk led the Chieftains with 14 kills. Tori Carlos added 11 kills and four blocks, and Kinlee Rex had 25 assists. Alex Smith had 15 digs.
For the Mustangs, Boomer had 14 kills and 39 digs.
“I’m so proud of this team ... they left it all out there and that’s all I could of asked for ... there is no place else I would rather be,” Carter said.
The pain of the defeat was evident on the Mustang players and fans faces - tears streamed down the faces as some players realized they may never play at the competitive level again. As the Sierra and Minarets teams gathered for photos with the championship, and second place plaques, it was impressive that these two mountain schools played for the Valley title. Sierra, a school that has seen its numbers dwindle in recent years and Minarets, a school just six years old, moving up to D-IV play, a year removed from winning the D-V title.
The two schools, in a short time, have built a healthy rivalry, and are sure to meet in many more title games in the future.
Sierra will continue on to D-IV state playoffs with a first round game against Alta Loma (29-8). The Chieftains will travel to take on the Braves, who are coming off a 3-2 loss in D-IVAA playoffs to Laguna Blanca.
The Minarets Mustangs ended their season 30-5, impressive for second year coach Carter, and although she will lose six of her players to graduation, she has a talented core of players to build on for next season.
Her seniors left their mark in the Mustang’s record book. According to maxpreps.com, the Mustangs ended the season ranked No. 10 in the state in D-IV, and this squad set season records for kills (909), kills per set (9.5), and hitting percentage (.249).
Patricia Thomasian ends her Mustang career as the season leader in digs (474), and career digs leader (947). Seniors Boomer (62) and Hallie Grant (41) combined for 103 Aces. Twin sisters Sami and Hallie Grant combined for 109 of the teams 174 blocks. All plan on continuing their careers in college.
In the D-III championship game, No. 1 seed Bakersfield Christian Eagles (25-7) beat No. 2 seed Mission Oak (27-7) of Tulare (20-25, 25-17, 25-14, 27-25). Mission Oak defeated No. 3 seed Yosemite in the semifinals round.
D-V: Top-seeded Frazier Mountain beat Immanuel High 25-16, 25-10, 25-15 for the championship.
D-II: Independance (Bakersfield) beat Central Valley Christian 25-13, 25-19, 25-22 for the title.
D-I: Clovis East defeated Liberty-Bakersfield 25-18, 25-20, 25-22.
For more photos, see sierrastar.com.