Garces volleyball coach John Price came out the Rams quarterfinals match knowing that what just happened was a rarity this season.
In a defensive battle, the fourth-seeded Rams defeated No. 5 Clovis West 25-16, 26-24, 16-25, 25-22 in the Central Section Division I quarterfinals on Tuesday at home.
“We haven’t been been pushed like that all year,” Price said. “We were doing what we usually do and against anyone else, we were getting kills. Against these guys, they were making plays.”
Clovis West played and lost to Liberty in the D-I finals last season while Garces won the D-II title before moving up divisions this offseason.
Garces (25-7) beat the Golden Eagles (25-18) earlier this season in straight sets.
After the Rams took a 2-0 lead, it appeared to be more of the same before Clovis West rallied back for a 25-16 third set.
“We had to find another gear and grind a little bit,” Price said. “We haven’t been forced to do that a lot this year. It was nice to see them pull it out. But, it’s the first time we’ve been challenged like that by a defense.”
Coincidentally, it was Garces’ libero, Mckenzie Miller, that really stood out in the fourth set for Garces, according to Price.
“She made a couple big plays late that ended up helping us rally on them and were momentum swingers,” Price said. “It’s such a big swing in rally scoring. Those were big plays when we were down.”
Now comes No. 1 seed Fresno-Central on the road in the semifinals on Thursday. The Grizzlies (37-2) are ranked No. 1 in the BVarsity Central Section regular season rankings, No. 7 in the state by Cal Hi Sports and are undefeated against Central Section opponents.
Central beat Garces 2-0 on Sept. 1 at the Clovis Volleyball Invitational.
The difference in opponent play between Clovis West and Central is completely reverse. While the Golden Eagles had a strong defensive setup against Garces, the Grizzlies have one of the top front row lineups in California, led by Makayla Lewis, Maya Riddlesprigger and Imani Lacy, who all stand above six-feet tall.
“Central is not going to be digging ball like Clovis West did,” Price said. “We are going to have to push them at the net and beat them on the back row.”
Luckily for Price, he has a seasoned starting rotation that all were key in the Rams title run a year ago in D-II.
Emily Demos, a senior middle blocker who is signing to Benedictine (Kan.) College on Wednesday, is a four-year starter for Garces and as seen the transformation from a 14-21 team in 2014 to a D-I semifinalists now.
“I am beyond excited,” Demos said. “I think our whole team is excited. We have been working really hard to get here.”
Laliah Green led Garces with 18 kills as Perri Starkey added 15 and Alyson Dees chipped in 13 as Priscilla Miranda had a match-high 46 assists for the Rams.