By Paul Meadors, Sports Editor
The Clovis East girls’ volleyball team took home first place honors in a very special tournament, named after a very special man who impacted many lives in the Clovis and Central Valley volleyball community.
The first annual Hard Driven Volleyball Challenge was played October 2-3 at Clovis North High School and was named for John Riding who passed away suddenly last year on May 9 at the age of 54.
Ten total schools were involved in the tournament including three Clovis schools: Buchanan, Clovis North and Clovis East. The championship game featured the home Broncos against the upstart Timberwolves.
Behind the strong play of setter and tournament MVP Christina Tran and middle hitter Thaliana Grajeda, the Timberwolves swept the Broncos 25-20 and 25-18 in the best of three format.
The championship was not a surprise to Tran, who’s steady play during the two-day event was essential to her team’s title run.
“We are so excited because we’ve worked so hard every single day,” said Tran. “And I also think we really deserved it. We have a lot of confidence so I wasn’t surprised when we won.”
Head coach Vicki Samarin like what she sees in her team right now, and winning a challenging tournament certainly helps.
“We really now are just finding our rhythm,” said Samarin. “We knew we had a lot of ability, but it was just finding the right combination and the flow of the game. They’re starting to get it.”
Tournament director Travis Herb, an assistant volleyball coach and teacher at Clovis North, came up with the idea for the tournament and wanted a way to honor Riding. They first met when Herb was in high school and Riding was a college student, heavily involved in church ministry.
“The tournament was about celebrating John, celebrating the sport and celebrating the girls who are playing in this tournament,” said Herb. “To keep John’s memory alive is important to us as well.”
A grant was set up in Riding’s name, given to one player who exemplified the pillars of character that Riding held so deep. Each coach was responsible for nominating one player, with members of the Riding family, wife Leicia and her three kids Ashlyn, Parker and Logan, voting on the recipient.
During a touching ceremony filled with tears and a heartfelt speech, Leicia Riding presented the college grant to Sanger’s Sierra LeBeau. It was a unanimous decision, and one that LeBeau will remember for a lifetime.
“To have people support me, that means a lot,” said the senior outside hitter. “This award will help me when I’m down and lift me up just knowing that people care about me.”
Named to the all-tournament team were Klaryssa Moreno from Sanger, Amanda Acosta from Exeter, Alyson Penrose and Madison Jones from Clovis North and Thaliana Grajeda and Jocelyn Rodriguez from Clovis East to go along with Tran’s MVP.