Centennial isn't the biggest volleyball team in town, but it appears to be the best. The same might be true for the Central Section's top playoff division.
The Golden Hawks swept Liberty 25-20, 25-19, 25-23 at home Tuesday in a battle for the Southwest Yosemite League and the inside track to the No. 1 seed in the Division I playoffs.
"It was incredible," Centennial setter Tori Smith said. "We set the standard for ourselves for the rest of league and into Valley. Now we know our potential."
That potential, apparently, has nothing to do with height. Centennial (14-6, 5-0 SWYL) has only one player with any notable size, middle blocker Cassidy George. She played big Tuesday, with 15 kills, three blocks and numerous other Liberty attacks were tipped or altered to keep a point alive.
"She was everywhere tonight," Centennial coach Brooke Roberts said.
Then there was the Golden Hawks' back-row defense: Five players had at least 12 digs, led by Addy Peters' 24 and Abby Campbell's 22.
Time and again, points between the two rivals would develop into long rallies, and time and again, Centennial seemed to win them.
"We've been practicing that a lot, and tonight we were actually able to get a hold of that," said Smith, who had 14 digs to go with 35 assists. "Defense is one of our fortes this year, because we're not as tall as other teams. We have to focus on it."
Offensively, Campbell had 10 kills and sophomore Jourdan Muro added a career-high 12.
"I am so proud of Jourdan," Roberts said. "She did a fabulous job. In giving her an opportunity to play (more), we've begun to see her play better."
Nikki Leonard had 17 kills, 22 digs and 4 blocks, Halle Harker made 44 digs and Morginne DeMarco added 10 kills and 22 digs for Liberty (18-8, 4-1. The Patriots led for most of the first set, but Centennial caught up and then won the final five points of the set to win 25-20.
Centennial led nearly the whole way in Game 2, but again in the third set, the Golden Hawks trailed early before late ties at 20 and 23. Kills by Campbell and Peters ended it for the Golden Hawks.
"There were some great rallies," Liberty coach Lean Slayton said. "We just didn't end up winning most of them, and it's hard to get momentum that way. We just didn't catch any breaks."
Roberts, meanwhile, has her team focus on scoring multiple points in a row during practice, so that momentum in match situations turns their way more easily.
"That's what I hope, anyway," Roberts said. "It just gives you a point of reference, so that during a timeout, I can refer to those drills."
In another high-level Division I match Tuesday, Clovis West beat Clovis in five sets. Liberty owns a non-league victory over Clovis West, and Centennial beat Clovis. That makes the SWYL winner, whoever it ends up being, will be a near lock for the top seed.
But Roberts was having none of that just yet.
"It means that we face Frontier on Thursday, and we have to maintain this same level," she said.