Volleyball: Monarchs regain throne, end nine-year title drought
Exeter defeats Bakersfield Christian 3-2 to win first Valley Championship since 2008
By Patrick Dillon @PDillon_SGN
VISALIA – Many around the Exeter volleyball program had been wondering when the Monarchs were going to add another Valley Championship to their name. After all it had almost been a decade since they last walked away with some serious hardware. At least that was until Saturday when the Monarch grounded the Bakersfield Christian Eagles 3-2. It was Exeter’s second trip to the finals in as many years, but their first Valley title since 2008.
The Monarch’s Achilles’ heel last year was their lack of experience. But in 2017 and with nine returners hungry to avenge last year’s Valley Title loss, Exeter had experience and tenacity on their side. Just like last year the Monarchs started as the second seed in the D-II playoffs and advanced all the way through to the finals to face off against the division’s top-seeded team.
Determined to come out on top this season Exeter prevailed in a five-set instant classic 3-2 (25-13, 13-25, 25-14, 19-25, 15-9) at College of the Sequoia’s Porter Field House. And out of all the Valley Championships in Exeter’s history this is the highest division they have won.
“Finally! I am just so proud of the girls and how have they worked,” said Exeter head coach Samantha Hilvers as she fought back tears. “We knew it was going to be a battle, but I had all the confidence in the world.”
Kills by senior Madelyn Sweepe, a recent D-II signee to California State University, Stanislaus, and junior Corinne Acosta helped Exeter jump out to a 14-6 lead in the first set. A couple of points later, senior middle hitter Alexis Kirkman got her first of a team leading 11 kills, which helped the Monarchs (28-12, 9-1) to a dominating opening set win 25-13.
“I am so excited right now,” said Kirkman. “I seriously do not know what to do, my emotions are crazy right now. I am just so proud of our team. We did it, we finally did it.”
Despite the Exeter’s ease through the first set, the rest of the match was far from easy. The Monarchs were pitted against the most athletic team they had faced all season. Throughout most of 2017 when Exeter put the ball down on the middle of their opponents side of the court it was assuredly a point, but not against the Eagles.
Bakersfield’s athleticism allowed them to run down Monarch strikes and successfully return them. As a result the Eagles found a way to tie up the sets at 1-1.The biggest difference in the second set was the eight total errors the Monarchs committed. Along with a questionable call by the down referee. The Monarchs scored a point early on to close their deficit to 10-6. However, a replay of the point was issued. Later on in the third set on a Bakersfield double-hit violation another replay was issued. Coach Hilvers was obviously fuming on the side lines.
“I had to let it go and that was my goal here tonight, to let those calls go when they happened. My reaction does not help the girls,” said Hilvers.
In the third set Exeter once again was on the right side, where all the sets in the game were won.
Whether it was intuition of superstition, Coach Hilvers made it clear to her captains telling them to choose the right side during the coin toss. However, it would not be Exeter’s choice as Bakersfield won the toss. The Eagles chose to serve, and the Monarchs quickly chose the right side.
“If you’ve been around volleyball long enough, you know that it is a game of momentum,” said coach Hilvers. “Sometimes it is just that certain side.
The Eagles strategy may have been to keep the serve. Since their wins in the second and fourth sets were when they had the first serve.
Yet, Exeter looked as calm and relaxed as they had all game and really all season. After Exeter widened their lead from 3-2 to 9-4 in the final set, they felt like it was their match to lose.
Holding the Eagles at bay and asserting a comfortable five point lead, the Monarch faithful held up one finger, signifying that they need just one more point. A dig came to recent D-I college signee Kassi Stolz. Like she had done so many times before, Stolz set the ball to the near side of the net. Then Teagan Bryant stepped up and put the final point down.
The Eagles defense had over stepped their coverage and tried to maneuver, but the ball came down on the court behind them.
Pandemonium erupted on the court as the players, fans, and spectators cheered.
Sweepe, who had nine kills on the night prophesied the Monarchs return to the Valley Championship game after last year’s loss and was overcome with emotion after the game.
“This is absolutely unbelievable,” said Sweepe.
Road to Valley
The Monarchs received the No. 2 seed in the D-II bracket once again this season after their second straight Central Sequoia League (CSL) title. While some questioned the decision on putting the runner-up from last season in the second spot, it did mean Exeter had a first round bye. And all coach Hilvers was thinking about bring a Valley Title back to Exeter
However, the Monarchs had all they could handle in their quarter final match against the No. 7 seeded Monache Marauders (25-10) on Tuesday, Nov. 7 at the Smith Gym. Panic started to fill the gym as Monache, the team that Exeter devastated 3-0 in their first game of the season, led 2-1.
In the huddle before the fourth set Exeter players were overheard saying, “we are not ending the season like this.” Even the banner saying, Road to Valley, began to fall off the wall.
“It felt like this chance was slipping through our finger,” said Hilvers.
Luckily that is not the way the Monarchs season ended. Exeter players came together and won the last two sets to take a 3-2 (22-25, 25-7, 25-27, 25-21, 15-6) win.
Acosta led the Monarchs in that matchup with 18 kills. Followed by Kirkman with 15 kills
The semifinals match two days later showed what the Monarchs could do. Exeter swept legend Alana Montgomery and the Redwood Rangers 3-0 (25-11, 25-13, 25-20).
Acosta and Sweepe both had 10 kills.
This Wednesday, Nov. 15, at 7 pm the Monarchs will host their first home state playoff game at the Smith Gym since 2008 after earning the No. 8 seed. They will play the No. 9 seeded Culver City Centaurs (30-1, 10-0) from the Ocean League in the Southern Section.
The Centaurs have a trio of big hitters, all of whom have at least 140 kills according to Maxpreps.com.
“[Culver City] is a team that knows how to win,” said Hilvers. “We are going to have to play as a team in order to take them out of their game.”
Later Coach Hilvers added that there will be no change in any of the Monarchs’ strategies or lineups before the game.