Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Madera South’s Bianca Guevara tries to get a tip past the San Joaquin Memorial blocker during Thursday’s semifinal loss.
FRESNO — The Madera South Stallions volleyball team walked away in tears after losing in the semifinal round of the Div. III Central Section playoffs.
But the team is feeling good about the future.
Coming off a 3-2 win against Dinuba in the quarterfinal round of the CIF Central Section Championships, the Stallions were hoping to advance to their second straight Div. III championship match. Last year, the Stallions went to San Joaquin Memorial and beat the Panthers to head to the title match. However, history didn’t repeat itself Thursday.
The Stallions’ championship aspirations ended with a 3-0 loss at San Joaquin Memorial. Now, the team is saying goodbye to most of the players, but still feeling confident in what they have left.
“We’re going be graduating seven seniors, but we have a lot of young players who started for us this season,” Madera South head coach Travis McOwen said.
The Stallions were down 6-2 in the first set against San Joaquin Memorial. Bianca Guevara, however, scored two straight to bring her team within two points. The Panthers’ Catherine Gleason then answered back with two in a row for the Panthers to make it 8-4.
The gap grew to double digits after a 9-0 run by the Panthers. After Madera South scored two straight to end the run, Guevara continued her strong performance with two more kills and cut the gap to eight points.
The Stallions, however, didn’t get any closer, losing 25-16 in the first set.
“We just got beat by a really good team tonight,” McOwen said. “They had our number all season. They hit well, they blocked well. They did everything well.”
After a 4-4 tie early in the second set, the Panthers took a three-point lead. Much like the first set, San Joaquin Memorial put together a long run to pull away. This time, the Panthers scored seven straight to take an 18-10 lead. Madera South broke its drought after two consecutive sideouts.
Guevara added a kill to cut the Panthers’ lead to six points, but she then gave away a point on a serve that landed out of bounds. Madera South scored one more point before the Panthers took the set 25-17.
“[Guevara] did really well for us in the playoffs,” McOwen said. “She definitely played well, but Memorial is a tough team and they can block.”
The Stallions made up a three-point deficit early in the third set and forced a 9-9 tie. Again, the Panthers built the lead back to three and the Stallions clawed back, taking the lead on a block by Arelis Chavez.
Mahayla Mathy answered back for the Panthers to make it a 13-13 tie. Nigella Ruguian added two straight kills to give San Joaquin Memorial a 15-13 lead. The Stallions cut the lead to one, but they couldn’t get any closer. Leading 24-19, the Panthers committed a service error and kept Madera South alive.
After Madera’s Jacky Granados made it 24-20, a sideout cut the gap to three. But the Panthers closed out the sweep with a 25-21 win when Granados’ serve landed out.
“We had some moments where we had some missed opportunities, but for the most part Memorial is a pretty good team,” McOwen said. “In order to beat a team like that, you gotta play lights out.”