The last time the East High volleyball team reached the Central Section semifinals, Laila Baameur was still in elementary school.
It was 2014 and Baameur’s older sister McKenna was a key contributor for the Blades.
Seven years later, Laila Baameur finds herself in a similar situation.
The senior outside hitter made sure of that with a game-high 23 kills and three aces to lead No. 2 East to a 25-17, 25-20, 25-11 victory over No. 7 McFarland in the Central Section Division IV quarterfinals on Thursday night.
“Laila is the younger sister of two of my former players so she’s been around the gym since she was a little girl,” East coach Johnitta Clemons said. “But she’s been on varsity for years and she is a captain. And I always tell people that I think she might be the greatest leader in the history of East Bakersfield High School. She’s amazing.”
The Blades (24-7-1), fresh off an undefeated run through the Southeast Yosemite League, will host the winner of No. 3 Visalia Golden West and No. 6 Madera South in Tuesday’s D-IV semifinals.
“They stayed on task,” Clemons said. “We had a plan and we were going to see what kind of adjustments they made, and we stayed on task and followed the plan.”
Baaumeur got things started early in Thursday’s match. She had three kills and two aces to keep her team close at the start of the opening set, and then added two more kills later, including one that gave the Blades a 20-13 lead.
“This is everybody’s first time going to playoffs for volleyball, so of course we were a little shaky at the start, but once we realized this is just another game, we just have to execute and play, we get going,” Baameur said. “Once we all come together it’s OK, it’s just a little confidence boost throughout the game.”
The powerful left-hander had seven more kills in the second set to take control of a back-and-forth second set and then capped her night with 11 kills in the decisive third set.
“I knew that once the set was there that I had the capability of putting it away,” Baameur said. “I had my libero telling me where to hit and where the block was at so I knew exactly where to go and what was open. So as long as I finished there I’d be fine.
It certainly wasn’t a one-person effort, but at times it felt like it. Senior setter Kaitlyn Cisneros also had a big net, moving the ball around to a variety of hitters. Seven different players had at least one kill, but Baameur proved to be the favorite target.
Already leading 15-10, East closed with 10 of the last 11 points, with Baameur tallying five kills during the barrage. Teammate Andrea Beltran closed out the match with a pair of aces.
“That’s who she is, she plays to win,” Clemons said. “She wants to do everything for her team. She wants to carry her team, she’s like that. Not just on the court, but off the court. She’s always taking care of everybody and making sure they’re care of. That’s what kind of kid she is.”