The statistics signifying Bakersfield Christian’s sheer dominance on the volleyball court is nothing short of staggering.
Seventy straight wins in the South Sequoia League; a No. 1 seed in the Division II Central Section playoffs; and of course the big picture — four straight Central Section championships (one in Division IV, and the last three in D-III).
Under any metric, those numbers are astounding, and must be recognized as such.
“It’s just a great school that attracts good athletes and good kids overall. That helps out quite a bit,” said BCHS head coach Matt Touchstone, in his second year in charge of the program. “I think, honestly, what’s helped establish that kind of stuff is it being a good school for kids to go to. And I think the quality of the kids helps out a ton.”
Senior outside hitter Sarah Wilkins said following in the footsteps of winning players and teams has helped build — and sustain — a legacy at BCHS.
“We inherited being with the older girls and how they’ve done stuff before,” Wilkins said. “That really helped us how we managed to get things done, and we want to uphold the school’s reputation of having a good volleyball team.”
Said junior setter Catherine Balfanz: “Even this year, there’s still a lot of pressure to keep up the run of wins. The league championship titles.”
By the same token, such dominance could be considered a blessing and a curse simultaneously. Seldom have the Eagles been challenged during their winning run. Of course, one could make that inference by simply looking at the 70 straight league victories.
Next year the Eagles expect to be pushed more locally, when they move from the SSL to the South Yosemite League.
“It’s hard — especially going into playoffs — with coming out from playing teams that we just dominate over,” Wilkins said. “That’s a definite challenge that we have to face.”
Said Touchstone: “Typically, our school has dominated that league so much, that trying to keep them focused is more of a problem than the level of play.”
Touchstone said during the league winning streak, the team doesn’t focus on simply winning matches, but how they’re doing it. Goals are set that don’t pertain to the final score — requirements for hitting percentage, passing percentage, or a baseline number for service errors are put in place. Eliminate the final outcome — which is typically a 3-0 victory — and focus on the game within the game.
“We wanted to maintain a level of play versus anything else. All the goals we tried to give was geared toward that,” Touchstone said. “Maintaining a good mindset of, we need play a certain standard no matter who we play against.”
And what are the consequences if such benchmarks aren’t hit?
“We run,” quickly countered senior setter Lillie Graham, to a chorus of laughter from teammates during an interview session last week.
Even during section playoffs last year, the Eagles rolled to the championship: The team dispatched Reedley, Hanford West and Tulare-Mission Oak by combined set scores of 9-1. They would go on to win their opening state playoff match against Santa Ynez (3-1 score) before falling to Mission Hills-Alemany (3-1) in the CIF Southern California D-III quarterfinals.
The scenario sets up a unique set of circumstances for BCHS. For virtually any program in the area, a league championship, section title, and state playoff win would be a wildly successful season. Some amongst the Eagles, however, feel as if their accomplishments can get slighted.
“Even if we won section championships, everyone’s always been like ‘Well, it’s D-III. It’s D-IV. You guys are winning in a low division,’” Wilkins said. “But we’ve also proved in preseason that we can beat the D-I high schools that don’t really want to play us.”
The Eagles try to schedule up early in their season. This year — in tournament play — BCHS split two matches with Liberty and lost to Fresno-Central. The team also split two matches against Garces. Those teams accounted for three of the top four seed in the section D-I bracket.
In late October, the Eagles also played a high-caliber tournament in Redondo, where they lost to Thousand Oaks, L.A.-Notre Dame Academy and Chatsworth-Sierra Canyon before winning first place in the bronze division.
With that, BCHS was happy it took the court, in part because it was a tuneup for the postseason and in part because it came against cream-of-the-crop competition.
“Even though we lost….That’s OK. Because I feel like for all of us, playing good teams makes us better,” Balfanz said. “We don’t shut down, or look at a good team and say ‘Oh, we’re just going to roll over and die.’...We actually put up a fight, and we try our best. I think that pumps all of us up in a way.”
Will it equate to another Central Section title in 2017? The Eagles did move up to D-II this year, and the team is expecting a tougher road to the championship. The program also underwent a significant makeover of its own this past offseason, with the losses of standout front-line players Bella Bouma, Demi Owens and Gigi Wilkins.
“It’s not the same team as last year. We’re not as big. I do think we’re a solid team,” Balfanz said. “Valley is going to be a little harder this year. We’re working really hard on that.”
Central Section volleyball tournaments
The action continues Tuesday with the quarterfinals round. All matches begin at 6:30 p.m. unless noted. A look at the matchups:
No. 8 Clovis North at No. 1 Fresno-Central
No. 5 Clovis West at No. 4 Garces
No. 6 Centennial at No. 3 Liberty
No. 7 Clovis East at No. 2 Clovis-Buchanan
No. 8 Lemoore at No. 1 Bakersfield Christian
No. 5 Tehachapi at No. 4 Madera, 6
No. 6 Visalia-Golden West at No. 3 Visalia-Redwood
No. 7 Porterville-Monache at No. 2 Exeter
No. 9 Woodlake at No. 1 Oakhurst-Yosemite
No. 5 Tolhouse-Sierra at No. 4 Hanford West
No. 6 Fresno-San Joaquin Memorial at No. 3 O'Neals-Minarets
No. 7 Reedley at No. 2 Tulare-Mission Oak
No. 8 Strathmore at No. 1 Kingsburg
No. 5 Reedley-Immanuel at No. 4 Chowchilla
No. 6 Dos Palos at No. 3 Taft
No. 7 Porterville at No. 2 Liberty-Madera Ranchos
No. 8 Washington Union at No. 1 California City
No. 5 Selma at No. 4 Fresno Christian
No. 6 Wasco at No. 3 Sierra Pacific
No. 10 Delano at No. 2 Lemoore-Kings Christian