Monarchs start 0-3 before winning six of next nine games
EXETER – After three straight Valley Championship appearances from 2016 to 2018 with two championship wins, head coach Samantha Hilvers and the Exeter volleyball program knows what it takes to succeed. However after missing the 2020 season, like most other teams around the Central Valley, this season will be a year of growth for the Monarchs whose season got off to a rocky start.
With minimal varsity experience on a roster that includes one returner, Hilvers expects this season to be a year of growing pains. They opened with three straight losses against a trio of Division I programs in Central High School, Clovis East and Clovis North. The first two games were narrow losses in five sets and they were nearly in the same situation last Thursday before getting their first win at Porterville.
Exeter dominated the first set, winning 25-10. The Panthers found their rhythm in the second as the two teams traded leads before Porterville pulled out the narrow 25-23 win. They traded the next two sets and the Monarchs were heading to a fifth set for the third time in their first four games. They refused to lose again and came out with a strong 7-1 lead before winning 15-10.
When asked what the difference was for the Monarchs in the game against Porterville compared to their other losses, Hilvers pointed to their leader, junior Hannah Baker. According to the head coach, Baker leveled up her aggression in the final set and the rest of the team followed her lead.
Baker is the team’s lone returner from the 2019 squad and she played a significant role as a freshman. She finished first on the team in aces and second in kills. Baker leads this year’s squad in kills by a wide margin, and is more than halfway to her 2019 numbers through the first 12 games. According to MaxPreps, she is currently 6th in the state in kills and is top 30 in the nation in kills per set.
Hilvers noted that Baker has matured a lot since her first year of high school, and has embraced the role of being the go-to girl with the game on the line, but in order for the team to succeed, she can’t be the only leader. That’s where senior Madisson Woods steps in.
Coming off a strong showing on the soccer field last spring where she helped lead the Monarchs on a deep run in the regional playoffs, Hilvers challenged Woods to step up on the volleyball court this season. As the only player on the roster that has won a Valley title, she knows what it takes to be a part of a championship culture. She’s accepted Hilver’s challenge and has stepped up as a vocal leader on the court.
The Monarchs played eight games between Friday and Saturday as part of a tournament, winning five of those games to push their season record to 6-6. They’ll take the court again on Thursday at home against Sanger at 6 p.m.