Monarchs claim back-to-back D-II titles
Corinne Acosta and Teagan Bryant come through with crucial points in fifth set for 3-2 win
By Patrick Dillon @PDillon_SGN
VISALIA – It had been nine years since the Exeter Monarchs won a valley championship, but even longer since they had a shot at defending one. They capitalized on the opportunity last Saturday when they repeated as Division II champions.
Exeter grabbed its first back-to-back titles since the 2005-06 seasons, when it won a pressure filled five-set match 3-2 (25-11, 22-25, 20-25, 25-14, 15-11) over the El Diamante Miners at College of the Sequoias’ Porter Field House.
“It showed a lot of resiliency on the girl’s part to fight through those fourth and fifth sets and I am so proud of them,” Exeter head coach Samantha Hilvers said.
It was the first time the Monarchs (35-10, 12-0) were pushed to five sets all season. In contrast the Miners (28-5, 10-0) were used to playing complete games having been victorious in their quarter and semifinals matches. Hilvers’ message to her team going into that final set was to simply dig deep one last time.
Exeter leaned heavily on the experience of their seniors and juniors who were in this situation one year ago against the Bakersfield Christian Eagles, and when the Monarchs needed points they delivered. Teagan Bryant and Corinne Acosta scored two straight kills to give Exeter a 14-11 lead before a Miners’ net violation handed the Monarchs the title. Acosta finished with a team leading 17 kills. Bryant finished with 10.
“It is unexplainable,” Acosta said. “I am just so happy that we pushed through those last sets, and worked together as a team.”
Although, Acosta and Bryant’s points helped Exeter close out the win the result might have been different if it wasn’t for one of their newest players. Grace Germaine, who had moved to Exeter from Colorado over the summer, delivered an ace which tied up the game at 10-10. Exeter won the next point and never trailed again.
The first three sets were a stark contrast from when the Monarchs swept El Diamante back in August. It was the Miners holding the 2-1 lead while the Monarchs struggled.
Exeter had shifted into a more passive mode on offense after winning the first set by such a large margin, 25-15. They began to tip more balls over the net in the hope of finding an open space. It became too predictable and the plan backfired. Instead it gave the Miners easier chances to dig the ball and resulted in more offensive chances. The sheer volume of kill attempts El Diamante put down pushed Exeter back on its heels. Each time Exeter went for a dig it seemed to go wildly to the side of the court, or they weren’t able to get a hand on it at all.
“They swung at every single ball,” Hilvers said. “I challenged my girls in the fourth set to stop tipping because they had not stopped our swing all night.”
It took one of Exeter’s middle hitters in Julia Nelsen to get the Monarchs back on track. Nelsen had become the Monarchs’ premier middle hitting during the latter half of the season, and in the fourth set she showed her abilities by striking at multiple areas along the net. Her seven kills drew the attention of the Miners’ middle blockers so much they stopped covering on outside hits. That allowed the Monarchs’ outside hitters to have clearer lanes against single blocks whether than doubles.
“We had our priorities, we knew what we wanted and we were willing to work on it day in and day out,” Nelsen said.
Road to the Finals
In Hilvers’ three years she’s led the Monarchs to three straight Division II Section Championship games. In that time, she has developed the team’s season long schedule to resemble the three-game gauntlet the final week of the playoffs offer. This season she added the Stockton Classic in late October. When she did some questioned her decision because the Monarchs were close to going undefeated in Central Sequoia League play, and feared playing the extra contact would unnecessarily tire out her players. Instead, it came in handy when the Monarchs had to gut out two 3-1 wins into to advance to the finals where they went five sets.
“Sometimes you need that extra tournament to build up that stamina, and what it means to have a tired body and to push through,” Hilvers said.
In the quarterfinals the Monarchs faced a familiar foe in Alana Montgomery and the Redwood Rangers. The last two seasons saw the Monarchs eliminate the Rangers in the Lion’s Dean. Last week against one of the most well-rounded Rangers team in some years according to Hilvers, the Monarchs made it three straight years with a 3-1 (19-25, 25-20, 25-22, 25-19) win.
“I have nothing but respect for Alana and what she built here in this gym,” Hilvers said.
Corinne Acosta, just as she has done all season, led the Monarchs with 20 kills. Julia Nelsen and Megan Tilschner both tied with 11 kills.
Two days later the Monarchs faced the unknown against the San Luis Obispo Tigers. Not only a new comer to the section, but this was the first match between the two schools. Exeter made the most of their adjustments in the fourth set and won 3-1 (25-22, 25-15, 18-25, 25-15).
State playoff bound
The Monarchs’ reputation for competing in big games in not only the post season, but also tournaments caught the attention of the state playoffs committee. They awarded the Monarchs the No. 2 seed in the Division II Southern California Regional bracket. It is the highest the Monarchs have ever been seeded in the state playoffs.
“I was definitely shocked, but exciting at the same time,” Hilvers said.
Exeter faced the No. 15-seeded Bishop Montgomery Knights (22-13, 6-2) from the Del Rey League in the Southern Section last night. Final results were reached after press time.
The Knights were led by Dakota Quinlan, who has 216 kills on the season.
If Exeter won on Tuesday, they will host the winner of the seventh-seeded Garces Memorial Rams and No. 10-seeded Polytechnic Panthers on Thursday night, Nov. 8, at 7 p.m.