VOLLEYBALL: Monarchs clear first round of state playoffs

The Exeter Monarchs defeat the Rancho Christian Eagles in the first round of state playoffs

EXETER – After being eliminated in the first round of valley playoffs, the Monarchs took advantage of their bid for state playoffs and defeated Rancho Christian 3-2 to move on to the second round.

Exeter got the number two seed on the south side of the Division III state playoff bracket. Having such a high seed gives them a home-court advantage throughout the playoffs because the higher-seeded team is the home team. The Monarchs came out strong, winning the first two sets over the Eagles. In the third and fourth set, they struggled with errors and gave up two losses. But the Monarchs were back, pulling ahead quickly in the fifth and never giving the Eagles a chance to catch up.

“Our girls did a really good job of reacting, adjusting and just trying to play the ball,” Exeter head coach Samantha Hilvers said. “And not letting it get them down when the other team would make some great kills.”

Rancho Christian’s outside hitter Mariah Hughes was a formidable opponent for the Monarchs. Her kills were fast, powerful and accurate from the outside. Some of her hits went down so fast the Monarchs simply didn’t have time to react. But, that also meant that when they could get up for the block, all that power went right back onto the Eagles’ side of the net. Monarchs’ setter Avery Barber had several strong blocks against Hughes.

“You don’t find a setter that blocks well often,” Hilvers said. “That’s probably one of her skills that she’s grown the most coming back into the season.”

The other defensive weapon against the Eagles hitters was freshman libero Cooper Piepgrass, who seemed to always be in the right place at the right time to dig out those tough and powerful hits. According to Hilvers, Piepgrass only began playing volleyball as a sixth grader and her focus is more on soccer.

“Early on in the season I was looking to replace [the former libero] who graduated, who was also a phenomenal soccer player,” Hilvers said. “Let’s throw Cooper in. She plays soccer similar to [the former libero]. And she just keeps growing leaps and bounds every time she steps on the court.”

After a tough playoff loss to Clovis North in the valley playoffs, the Monarchs are excited to have the chance to play in the state bracket. Though they knew that they would get a bid to the state playoffs regardless of winning Valley or not (all Division I teams got a bid for state), they didn’t know where they would be seeded. The bracket is divided into north and south. Exeter is on the south side of the bracket and seeded number two.

“Pleasantly surprised with the high seed and division III,” Hilvers said. “Especially because now we get to be home for almost everything.”

The Monarchs will be moving on to the second round. They will face the seventh seed, Capistrano Valley Christian, on Nov. 10 at 6 p.m. at home again.

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