Tuesday, Nov 13 2012 10:58 PM

Liberty sweeps its way into D-I volleyball final

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    By Michael Fagans / The Californian

    Liberty's Haylee Roberts attacks the block of Centennial's Tori Smith during their Division 1 seminal playoff game at Liberty on Tuesday night in Bakersfield.

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    By Michael Fagans / The Californian

    Centennial's Cassidy George attacks the Liberty triple-block of Nikki Leonard, Kourtney Grantz and Kiki Robinson during their Division 1 seminfinal playoff game at Liberty on Tuesday night.

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    By Michael Fagans / The Californian

    The Liberty team and bench celebrates winning a point against semifinal opponent Centennial during their Division1 game at Liberty on Tuesday night in Bakersfield.

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BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer

Liberty's volleyball team is one match away from capturing its white whale: A Central Section Division I championship.

And that whale has no chance if Liberty performs like it did Tuesday: A focused, aggressive, precise effort that resulted in a three-game sweep of Centennial, 25-19, 25-18, 25-20.

"We have been preparing for this since the first day of practice," senior Kiki Robinson said. "We knew we had to come out swinging. We came out fired up. We did what we had to do."

The top-seeded Patriots (26-6) now play host to No. 2 Clovis West at 7 p.m. Thursday in the D-I final. The teams have split two earlier meetings: A four-game victory at home for the Patriots, followed by Clovis West's 2-1 win in a best-of-three tournament match at Torrey Pines.

"In my four years, I've never been in the Valley (final), but we've always talked about it," Robinson said. "It's the most exciting thing in the world right now."

Liberty volleyball has accomplished much in the school's 12-year history, including a Division II state championship in 2002, but one thing the Patriots haven't done is win the D-I section title. They came close in 2008, losing in four games at Clovis West.

"It would be huge," Liberty coach Lean Slayton said. "We have 11 seniors on this team, and a lot of them have been here for four years. We've talked about this for a long time, so I think we're hungry for it."

And this time, Liberty will be at home, where they were all but flawless against rival Centennial (21-11), the No. 4 seed. The Patriots scored the first eight points of the match and led 13-3 in Game 1 before Centennial recovered.

"They just wouldn't let the ball hit the floor," Centennial coach Brooke Roberts said. "They're a great team, and they'll be a great representative of our area in the Valley championship."

Game 2 was tied 11-11 when the Patriots embarked on a 13-4 run behind their multi-faceted attack, which features Oregon-bound middle blocker Haylee Roberts, do-everything setters Robinson and Taylor Harris, and big swinger Nikki Leonard.

"We talked a lot about where we needed to hit the ball, and about how important it was for all three hitters to be up and have a very balanced offense," Slayton said. "And we were able to do that."

Centennial finally held a lead for an extended period at the start of Game 3, but Liberty tied the game at 12, then scored three straight points at 17-17 to pull away.

"We don't ever expect (a sweep) when we go against Centennial," Slayton said. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for Brooke Roberts and what she does with that program. I knew I didn't want to get into a long match, but we didn't expect this."

Robinson had a terrific all-around game with 12 kills, 20 assists, three aces and four blocks. Haylee Roberts had 12 kills and four blocks, Maddie Hubbell made 16 digs and Kourtney Grantz and Tyler Herring each had six blocks.

"I feel like everybody put the ball down when they needed to put it down," Slayton said. "And you see the person who terminates the ball, but you don't often see the person who makes that happen."

For Centennial, McKenna Painton had 11 kills and 10 digs, and Maddie Black made 18 digs, but the Golden Hawks never could make a run that flummoxed the Patriots.

"We tried to make one adjustment, and that didn't work, so we tried to make another one, and that did work for a while," Brooke Roberts said. "But it just wasn't enough to change the outcome."

Liberty never trailed by more than three points, and they answered that with a 5-1 lead; the Patriots never trailed later in a game than a 9-8 deficit in Game 3.

"We analyzed Centennial," Robinson said. "We knew exactly where to hit the ball, and our back row just didn't let the ball hit the floor."

Now it's on to the championship, where Clovis West awaits with one more prize at stake.

"We have to do exactly what we just did tonight," Robinson said. "We have to find the holes, we have to play defense. We have to be fired up again."

D-II semifinals

LEMOORE -- After a first set that included 17 ties where neither team was able to build a lead larger than three points, Lemoore knew it was in for a battle.

And when it was all said and done, it was the Tigers that came out on top.

No. 2-seeded Lemoore went back-and-forth with Tehachapi early before coming on strong late to beat the No. 3 Warriors 26-24, 25-16, 26-28, 25-16.

Lemoore (25-5) advances to Thursday's championship at No. 1 Visalia-El Diamante, which survived a five-set thriller in its semifinal against Independence.

To get there, the Tigers had to survive an even matchup vs. a Warrior team that came in 31-2.

"That's a really good team over there," Lemoore coach Rachel Taylor said of the Warriors. "We played a real controlled game and served really well. When we do that, we're tough to beat."

-- JOSH BUTTERS, Hanford Sentinel


El Diamante d. Independence, 22-25, 25-20, 21-25, 25-19, 15-12.

Kayla Martin had 35 kills and Emily Lopes 53 assists for the Falcons (16-13), who went 0-10 in the Southwest Yosemite League but nearly reached the final of the Division II bracket.

Ridgeview falls in D-III

No. 3 seed Ridgeview lost a four-set match to No. 2 Visalia-Redwood, 25-9, 24-26, 25-17, 25-20. The Rangers will host the final against No. 4 Fresno-Hoover, which upset top seed Visalia-Central Valley Christian in four games.

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