Block play helps West Valley reach its first state women's volleyball final

Monika Martinez Leon (10) totaled eight blocks to help West Valley reach the state final in a sweep over American River on Saturday (Photo by David Sanborn).
Monika Martinez Leon (10) totaled eight blocks to help West Valley reach the state final in a sweep over American River on Saturday (Photo by David Sanborn).

CCCAA State Semifinals
Match #5
N2 West Valley d. N4 American River, 25-13, 27-25, 25-23
American River finishes tied for 3rd place

(FRESNO) -- West Valley College reached its first CCCAA Women's Volleyball Championship state final thanks in part to an impressive display at net block as the Vikings swept American River, 25-13, 27-25, 25-23, Saturday afternoon at Fresno City College.

The Vikings (23-4) have won 18 consecutive sets, recording four straight sweeps in the postseason. American River (26-7) saw its 10-match win streak snapped although it places tied for third at the '21 tourney. The Beavers have reached three straight tourneys under head coach Carson Lowden. 

In the first meeting of the year between the two schools, West Valley's 5-foot-10 sophomore transfer middle blocker Monika Martinez Leon came up big with eight blocks (four solos) and four kills and outside hitter Keilli Voss added four blocks and six kills as the pair offset the big swing of ARC's 6-2, All-State OH Awelina Fakalata. While Fakalata still had 15 kills and 14 digs, West Valley often forced her into attack errors.

Meanwhile, All-American Taylor Tullo scored team-highs with 13 kills and 12 digs while Katie Kishton added to her strong postseason run with 12 kills and six digs. Setter Sydney Rogers contributed 31 assists and two blocks and Alina Valenti had nine digs and had the hot hand on serves.

In the first set, Valenti served on a 12-0 WVC run that sent American River reeling, down 16-4. The Beavers (26-7), who struggled on attacks, made seven hitting errors during the run. WVC built the lead to 23-7, including one stretch where Martinez Leon recorded three consecutive solo blocks, and settled for 12-point win on a service error.

In the second set, West Valley built a 20-14 lead before ARC roared back to cut it to 21-20. A Voss kill gave the Vikings a 24-23. Two Vikings errors placed ARC at set point, leading 25-24, but a Kishton kill was followed by back-to-back, wall stuff blocks by Martinez Leon and Voss as West Valley won the set in extra points.

The third set seemed all West Valley in going up 10-4 and then 22-17, but American River responded with two aces by Kyle Matthews and a thundering kill by Fakalata to cut it to 22-21. Fakalata pounded two more kills but with ARC poised to tie the set, the match ended and season ended for the Beavers on a ball-handling error. 

West Valley head coach Armen Zakarian said about reaching the final, "I can't believe it. We're a team that has found ways to win, sometimes winning ugly points. Monika Martinez Leon wasn't even starting for us until late in the season. She steps up and plays her best match today. We knew we had to get American River out of system. People think ARC is all about 18 (Fakalata), but they have so many other players that are so important to that team. They have good middles who don't make mistakes, a good setter and 20 (Shananaley Iakopo) does a great job on passing. So we scouted and had a game plan to cover all the parts."

American River finished with 27 attack errors (West Valley 17) but had strong efforts by Fakalata, setter Sabrina Bigley (27 assists, two kills, two solo blocks), Aubrey Miller (12 digs), and Iakopo (11 digs). The eight blocks by Martinez Leon is tied for 15th highest in a state tournament match. 

The state tournament has now featured five sweeps. ARC will play the winner of today's Feather River v. Fresno City mega semifinal (5 p.m.) for the state championship on Sunday at 2 p.m.

Release by Robert Lewis, CCCAA/CCCWVCA State Championship SID