Coyotes hold off Panthers to stay perfect in league

The Madera Coyotes girls volleyball hasn’t been challenged a lot lately, but the team has been able to answer the call when necessary.

That was the case when the Coyotes faced a pesky San Joaquin Memorial-Fresno team Thursday in Joe Flores Gym. The Panthers fought hard to erase Madera’s perfect league record but the Coyotes rose to the challenge with a 3-1 match win to remain undefeated in the County/Metro Athletic Conference.

“As soon as I saw those tall girls, I knew this is going to be a great game,” sophomore Isabella Saucedo said. “They put up the best game I’ve played against any girls. They put up that strong block and it was very hard for me to try to get around them.”

The Panthers fell behind 4-1 in the first set, but clawed back and took an 11-9 lead. The deficit served as a wake up call for the Coyotes, who scored three straight points to regain the lead before pulling away to win the first set 25-16.

“We do panic just a little, but then we look to each other and it calms us down,” Saucedo said. “We’re always in a groove. We never seem to get out of it.”

The Coyotes showed the same poise in the second set where they went back-and-forth with the Panthers before scoring the final four points to win the set 25-21.

“If you’re down by five points, none of that matters because your team is there,” Saucedo said. “They got your back through anything. I would always look to my teammates to make sure they keep a smile on their face.”

The leader of the smile club is senior Trinity Davie.

“She always has this big smile whenever she kills the ball and I just feed off it,” Saucedo said. “Really, you just have to feed off each other’s energy. That’s how you win games.”

The Coyotes had to regain that energy after losing the third set 25-19.

“We got off to a slow start in the third set. We talked about keeping our foot on the gas and we didn’t really do that,” Madera head coach Meghan Haas said. “We talked about it before. We need to make sure we don’t get complacent. We didn’t do that. Luckily in the fourth set, we came out and took it to them.”

The Coyotes jumped out to a 6-1 lead in the fourth set and continued to expand the gap, winning the set 25-13.

“We got a little ruffled, but we really came together and dominated the fourth set,” Saucedo said. “We all just looked at each other and said this is what we need to do, so lets do it.”

Saucedo recorded 13 kills in the game. Cassadi Mata added eight kills, while Lilly Ascencio had seven kills and Trinity Davie chipped in with six kills. Karina Rodriguez led the Coyotes with five aces, while Alicia Velasco added 16 digs.

“We have some young players. We have a junior setter and we have a sophomore outside. We have a six-rotation player in Lilly Ascencio,” Haas said. “We count on all those girls to control what we do in the game, but it really does take six people and we have 14, so it takes the other eight on the sideline to stay invested and execute when they go in the game.”

The Coyotes finished undefeated in the County Metro League last season and they have started 4-0 this year. While there have been many blowouts along the way, the Coyotes have also pulled off some close victories.

“It does feel good to have challenges because that’s part of the game. You don’t want to just squash a team. There’s no fun in that,” Saucedo said. “When you go against teams like San Joaquin Memorial, you learn a lot. I really learned a lot from this game, where to place the ball, the mentality to keep on pushing no matter what.”

“We had a great year last year. This year, we weren’t sure where we are going to fall, but they have done a good job taking care of business,” Haas said. “Anybody can beat anybody in our league. For us to win four in a row is a big deal.”