After coming up short in the 2019 Central Section and SoCal Regional playoffs, CVC returns in 2021 to finish the job
VISALIA – 2019 was a season of “almost” for a young Central Valley Christian team. They dominated in the regular season and almost made it to the Valley Championship before suffering a four-point loss in five sets to Stockdale during the semifinal round. They then made a deep run into the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) State Championship tournament and almost made it to the Regional Finals before being swept in the semifinal round by Palm Desert.
With nearly all of their starters returning for the next season, they were primed to make 2020 their year but COVID-19 had other plans. This year, with only a handful of returners from the 2019 squad, the Cavaliers are off to another dominant start to the season and have set their sights on a Valley Championship.
The 2021 seasion marks the fourth year at the helm of the varsity squad for head coach Bucky Kroeze, as he continues to push forward an established volleyball powerhouse. The team is off to a 16-2 start after winning their first 11 games, and MaxPreps currently has the Cavs ranked as the fifth best team in the state. Although an official season didn’t happen in 2020, the team was still able to play about 20 games against various club teams throughout the state. They lost only one game which left the squad wondering what could have been if they were able to play a full season. Those games have played a vast role in the team’s early success this year, and has only intensified the desire to make it to their first Valley Championship under Kroeze. With the pandemic still ongoing and various teams around the county continuing to get shut down for two weeks due to COVID-19 protocols, the uncertainty has added to the desire to play every game as if it could be the last.
“I think a lot of the seniors are understanding that this [season] may not last and so play your heart out [although] we might get shut down,” Kroeze said.
This year’s senior class is Kroeze’s first group of girls that have played with him all four years. Five of those seniors were on the 2019 squad, including captain and setter Maya Van Groningen who has served as one of the team’s biggest strengths so far this season. She’s currently third in the Central Section in assists and is in the top 35 in the state, according to MaxPreps.
“[She] does a great job of distributing the ball, she doesn’t just set the same person over and over again and that’s great in terms of strategy,” Kroeze said. “I think that is one of our strengths, that we can distribute the ball amongst all six players…teams can’t pick us apart because they know who we’re going to set the ball to every time.”
Although the Cavs do a great job of distributing the ball and playing as a cohesive unit, it’s obvious for opposing teams as to who they need to contain. Senior Grace Vanderkooi has been a force on the court since entering high school. She was one of three freshmen on varsity when Kroeze first became head coach and has become one of the most mentally and physically tough players he has ever coached.
During her freshman year, the team was playing in a tournament and were missing multiple players. By the end of the tournament, they only had two subs on the bench and so players like Vanderkooi didn’t get much time to rest during the slew of games. In a game against one of the better teams in the tournament, the young freshman was pounded in the face with a ball which drew blood. Kroeze for sure thought he had to pull her out of the game but she got up, wiped her nose, and was ready to go without missing a beat. That moment laid the foundation for the type of player she was going to be during the next four years.
According to Vanderkooi, she felt she had to prove herself as a freshman on a very talented CVC squad, but she has done way more than that. She’s finished top two in kills in every season, leads the team by a wide margin this year and is currently in the top 10 in the Central Section according to MaxPreps.
Not only has her game on the court progressed over the last few years, but her leadership skills have improved as she now embraces the role of senior captain. She’s more vocal both on and off the court and has made an extra effort to help other teammates as she deems the team’s potential to be a major strength.
CVC is now 2-0 in the Central Sequoia League after Monday’s sweep at Exeter. They’ll be back on their home court tonight against Hanford West.