What a wild eight-day stretch in boys volleyball, filled with a plethora of highs and lows for both Buchanan and Clovis.
First, the Bears captured the Central Section Division I championship on May 18 over the Cougars, a classic five game match.
Then, on May 24 the two rivals met again, this time in the CIF NorCal Division I state semifinals with Clovis advancing to the championship after beating Buchanan in four sets.
Finally, on May 26, Clovis fell to Mira Monte in the NoCal championship game in five games, while the Cougars had three championship points they failed to convert.
Whew, got all that? Well, now let’s get down to some specifics.
Buchanan, in a rematch of last year’s Central Section final, alternated 13-25, 25-23, 23-25, 25-20, 15-9 scores to capture its fifth straight Valley championship behind seniors Spencer Heimerdinger (19 kills), Braden Clarke (17 kills) and Kyle Merchen (48 assists).
Buchanan (28-8) was down 12-6 in the fourth set before rallying.
“Things were looking really shaky down 12-6 but we had been there before and we were not gonna be denied,” Heimerdinger said. “To be able share that moment with the same people I’ve been playing with since 7th grade was special and something I’ll never forget.”
For Merchen, who’s attending Concordia University and competed for the U.S. Boys’ Youth National Team in 2016 in Havana, Cuba, completed a rare feat – four rings in four years.
“Being a four-time valley champion feels unbelievable,” the 6’3” setter said. “I’m so blessed to have the teammates and coaches I do to reach this level of success.”
Heimerdinger, an 6’8” outside hitter and Fresno Pacific University basketball signee, pointed to the leadership of Merchen as the key to a successful season: “Whether providing valuable insight or trying to provide inspiration for the team to get going, he was able to do it all. His captaining and guidance was the engine that made our team go.”
Clovis, seeded No. 4 would exact their revenge, however, besting No. 1 Buchanan on their home court in the CIF NorCal semifinal, a rare occurrence for two Central Section teams meeting in the state playoffs.
Clovis sophomore David Hawkins was remarkable with 28 kills in four games and classmate Grant Lake, the son of coach Rich Lake, registered 48 assists.
Then the heartbreaker up north at Monte Vista, a 25-20, 20-25, 20-25, 25-23, 17-15 loss ending the Cougars’ season at 40-6.
Last year, Clovis won the CIF SoCal D-II championship and will return a bulk of its team next season.