Clovis West girls’ volleyball head coach Rhonda DeRuiter called timeout, her team losing its grip on the lead as Clovis High threatened to force a fifth set.
DeRuiter gathered the Golden Eagles and delivered a simple message — attack.
“Be aggressive,” DeRuiter said. “Hoping that [Clovis] will make mistakes is not going to win, so be aggressive. Go for it.”
Senior outside hitter Grace White heeded her coach’s words, recording back-to-back kills immediately after the timeout.
Her teammates Kristen Landen and Kylie Wancewicz followed suit when they rose together and delivered a block on Clovis senior Zoe Ruskofsky. Their block scored the game-winning point in Clovis West’s four-set victory over Clovis High in the Central Section Division-I girls’ volleyball semifinal Tuesday.
Clovis West won the match three sets to one, 25-19, 25-14, 26-28, and 25-20. The Golden Eagles will defend their Central Section championship from two years ago against league foe Clovis North, which defeated Central Valley Christian in four sets in the other semifinal.
The final is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. Saturday at West Hills College in Lemoore, where finals from the other four divisions will also take place.
Clovis West’s return trip to Lemoore will come with a group of girls that, for the most part, did not experience the title run in 2019.
“On paper, it looks like a really seasoned group of girls,” DeRuiter said. “They’re all juniors and seniors, but there’s no one that really got a lot of time [in 2019]. There are three girls that were on the team when we pulled up for playoffs, but they’re doing this all on their own without a lot of experience. These girls have really progressed from the beginning of the season to the end, so I’m really proud of them.”
One current Golden Eagle who was pulled up for the 2019 playoffs, junior Aidan Goodrich, turned in an all-around game Tuesday — 16 kills, 11 digs, and a team-high three aces.
The 6-foot-tall Goodrich formed a formidable combo with fellow 6-footer Rhya Williams, who led Clovis West with 19 kills.
“Everything about [Goodrich and Williams] impresses me, but I think what impresses me the most is how team oriented these girls are,” DeRuiter said. “The outside and opposite hitters picked up a big job tonight, so that’s why they were featured.”
Every ball Williams and Goodrich spiked for the kill came courtesy of acrobatic digs and deft passes. Senior libero Gabby Russell led the team with 18 digs and 32 passes. Landen added a team-best 48 assists.
“The credit all goes to the passers and setters,” Williams said. “There was a lot of talk on the net which really helps everyone. It made the game a lot simpler. Communication is a big part of it.”
Clovis West pulled out the first two sets and won three straight points in the third set to reach match point, 25-24. Clovis fought off two match points and won the third set.
In the fourth set, the Cougars scored three straight points to cut Clovis West’s lead to 22-20 and force DeRuiter to call timeout.
“We’ve always talked all year about how it’s not necessarily the error that defines us but our response, so we took that message into set three,” said Clovis head coach Richard Lake. “It felt like our girls kept trying to battle and get back in that fourth set. That’s what we talked about — if you lose, you still wake up tomorrow and have another day, but you don’t ever want to lose your respect or pride. I felt like the way we battled, we kept that.”
Clovis will await a potential state playoff seed, while Clovis West and Clovis North will meet for the fifth time this season. They are 2-2 against each other, making Saturday’s Central Section final the rubber match.