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BC volleyball loses leads, gets swept by American River in state playoffs

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All season long, the Bakersfield College Renegades women's volleyball team has thrived in late-game situations. They are a continuous emphasis for coach Carl Ferreira and also supply the name of a drill the team runs in practice.

So it was surprising when the team, having led by nine points in the first set and 11 in the third, was unable to close out either. Instead, the Renegades were swept by American River College 25-19, 25-19, 25-21 Friday morning at the California Community College Athletic Association state championship playoffs in Fresno.

ARC (26-6) went on an 18-3 run in the first, as opposite hitter Aurora Meneghetti had three key tips, then standout outside hitter Awelina Fakalata, who finished with 20 kills, peppered the Renegades defense with shots from a variety of odd angles. The third set featured a more gradual comeback from the Beavers but ended on a 7-0 run with three straight aces by Shanaley Lakopo.

"The magnitude of the moment is different," Ferreira said. "It’s the first time all year you’re playing in a state quarterfinal match. ... Really, it’s the first time all year that we probably did not execute as well as we wanted to late in the game."

Returning serves was a problem all day for BC (22-2), which conceded 15 aces. It hindered the Renegades' offense; only Kami Marion finished with double-digit kills. She had 13, nine of which came in the final set.

Poor serve receive passing, Ferreira said, "gave (ARC) an opportunity to narrow the gap, plus they had one player that was really outstanding."

The Renegade defense had trouble stopping Fakalata, the 6-foot-2 freshman who entered the day hitting .310 with 4.72 kills per set.

She picked up three early as ARC led 3-1. But BC took advantage of some awkward passing and failed tip attempts to lead 8-4, then 11-7, at which point Beavers coach Carson Lowden called timeout.

That didn't work. With Francesca Hernandez serving, the Renegades scored five more points, taking advantage of a pair of attack errors. Lowden stopped play again at 16-7, at which point ARC roared back to life. Meneghetti picked up three kills by tapping the ball over BC's blockers at the net twice, then capitalizing on a bad set.

Ferreira burned both timeouts and Marion got a kill to halt the run at 17-14, but then Fakalata came back into play. She picked up six kills down the stretch in a variety of ways. At one point she didn't jump and still hit it cross-court with enough power to beat the defense. She dropped it softly in the middle of the defense, then bounced the ball off the blockers and out of bounds to make it 24-18.

Meagan Williams staved off the final point for a moment before Fakalata got one last kill to end the set.

The second set featured back-and-forth play. BC led 6-4 before, with Aubrey Miller serving, the Beavers got five straight including a pair of aces that dropped precipitously after clearing the net.

The Renegades never led again as ARC held a three-point lead for much of the set. BC's offense seemed out of rhythm. Even after a kill and an ace by Marion helped BC draw close at 18-17, a bad pass led to another easy kill for Meneghetti that got ARC a side-out. The Beavers stayed in control and won 25-19.

The third set finally demonstrated how the Renegades earned their spot in Fresno. BC scored the first six points with Aly Dees serving, using much smoother passing to pick up four kills from Marion. The lead got as high as 14-3 before the Beavers struck back. They got two aces from Sabrina Bigley in an 11-3 run that caused Ferreira to spend both of his timeouts again.

Though the Beavers kept attacking, BC held firm and led as late as 21-18.

But the Renegades had no more opportunities to halt play as the set slipped away. It started with attack errors from Williams and Dees. Then Meneghetti and Crother got kills. And finally, leading 22-21, the Beavers gave the Renegades no chance at redemption when Lakopo earned aces on three straight serves, including one that just barely deflected over the net.

For ARC, the sweep means a chance at their second state title in three tries. For BC, it meant just the Renegades' second loss in two seasons, depriving them of the possibility of their best statewide finish since 1993, and putting them in a position Ferreira said no one was prepared for when the match began.

“That’s the cruel side of athletics," Ferreira said. "If you put yourself in big moments, then you can have emotional frustration when it doesn’t go your way.”

Reporter Henry Greenstein can be reached at 661-395-7374. Follow him on Twitter: @HenryGreenstein.