VOLLEYBALL: Golden West sweeps Ridgeview 3-0

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Golden West overcomes the loss of three players over the off-season to get their first win of the season over Ridgeview

By Patrick Dillon @PDillon_SGN

VISALIA – The experience and talent that the Blazers have entering this season had many already thinking that this is the best volleyball team in Golden West’s history. That was until circumstances began to make many question the thought.

Supposed to be returning this season was a trio of three-year starters in Kendall Johnson, Peyton Epp, and Regan Luoma, who brought the experience of Golden West’s last West Yosemite League title in 2015; add to the mix the firepower of two returning juniors in Kayla Tilley (66 kills, 38 solo blocks) and Leah North (62 kills, 43 aces).

Tilley tore her ACL in the Blazers final basketball game last season. She will miss all of this season.

“It is definitely hard losing [Tilley],” said Golden West head coach Laura Lopez.

Then both Luoma and North moved over the summer.

“Those were both strong key players, it was a huge loss,” said Coach Lopez

With three players now out, the role that the remaining two, Johnson and Epp, have to play this year is magnified.

Things did not begin well when the Blazers (1-1) lost 3-1 (25-16, 5-25, 12-25, 13-25) to the Mission Oak Hawks on Aug. 22 to open up the season.

But like the veterans they are, both Johnson and Epp led the Blazers in kills in a 3-0 (25-19, 25-18, 25-10) over the Ridgeview Wolfpack (3-4) last Thursday.

“Overall, I felt this was a good win for us,” said Coach Lopez.

Johnson was the focal point each time the Blazers went up for a kill. Out of the team’s 90 kill attempts, 32 of them came off Johnson’s hand. Out of those attempts, 21 rocketed to the ground or off blocks for points.

A good showing, but the Blazers had to make some adjustments in order to get to that point. Early in the first set, Ridgeview led 9-7. Up to that point, Johnson already had three kills but struggled to find a rhythm.

The issue was the Wolfpack’s front players Miller Paige and Emma Beals, who already had four blocks. On one point alone, Johnson had three kill attempts. Two were hit to the side of the block and were successfully dug by the Wolfpack players before Beals blocked the third for the point.

So the Blazers’ setter, Kaitlyn Tilly, began setting the ball farther away from the net, which allowed Johnson, and eventually Epp, a better angle to hit around the block.

Epp’s first kill tied up the opened set at 11-11. After that, she went on to total 13 kills, and the Blazers never trailed at any point for the rest of the night.

The Blazers are using Paige Banaga and Lily Lujan in the middle, left open by the injured Tilley.

The Blazers will travel up to Reedley to take on the Pirates on Sept. 5.

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