West Valley sees double as Pagani twins help Fresno win state women's volleyball title

Fresno City College's players and fans celebrate the 2021 women's volleyball state title on Sunday (Photo by David Sanborn).
Fresno City College's players and fans celebrate the 2021 women's volleyball state title on Sunday (Photo by David Sanborn).

CCCAA State Final
Match #7
N3 Fresno City d. N2 West Valley, 22-25, 25-17, 25-18
Fresno City State Champions
West Valley finishes state-runner up

(FRESNO) -- The Fresno City College women's volleyball team never disappoints on its gymnasium floor, not since head coach Kieran Roblee took over the program in 2016. The Rams won for the 57th time in 58 home matches under Roblee, defeating West Valley in four sets to became the first college in 40 years to capture the state title as the tournament host of the 2021 CCCAA Women's Volleyball Championship.

As the North's #3 seed, Fresno won its second state title, the other in 2016, as the designated visiting team in all three of its state tourney victories. But a sea of Fresno fans in Rams red rose in celebration as the Fresno players swarmed the floor in excitement after tournament MVP Lexi Pagani slammed home match point kill.

Fresno ended up splitting the four matches it played this season with West Valley, but winning the final two. The Rams finished 33-3 overall (school record in victories) while the Vikings closed out their best season in program history as state runner-up at 23-5.

"Both teams served so extremely well," Roblee said. "West Valley was sending over serves that were clear flat, low balls and it gave us some problems in the first set. West Valley had a great game plan to soft block Diamond'Nique Young. We settled down I think in that second set. Lexi Pagani has such a nasty serve for us. She's been a tough server since I've known her before high school. Our best players were in the moment and it got us over the top."

Pagani had a spectacular title match as she rifled 19 kills (.hit .378), served five of Fresno's eight aces, made nine digs and three blocks. All-Tournament team selection Young got going in the final few sets, finishing with 16 kills in 30 attempts (.467) while another stalwart effort by another All-Tourney choice in setter Julia Pagani with 50 assists.

"It's so much fun to play with my sister because we have that connection where she knows exactly what I'm going to do with the ball and gets to the right spots," Julia said about her twin Lexi, who is a redshirt freshman that recovered from a knee injury that kept her out of the 2019 season. Julia was a sophomore playing in her final match.

West Valley had an impressive match from its All-American outside hitter Taylor Tullo, who scored 18 kills with 12 digs and two aces. Both coaches had high praise for her performance.

"Taylor rose to the occasion, playing like a leader and did everything she could to keep us in the match," said WVC head coach Armen Zakarian. On the match itself, he said, "We had a great plan and we did a great job to win the first set. Then in that second set, they got that 10-point lead, and it rattled us. I think Fresno just stuck to their system and eventually it affected our passing."

Fresno libero Ali Santoyo, who made 13 digs and is a returning player from the 2019 team, said, "It's such a great thing to win on our own floor, but more so for our sophomores who lost a season to COVID and returned to play this season. We served so tough and we have maybe the best serving team in the state. We just believed in each other."

In the fourth set, Young swung consecutive kills for an 8-4 Fresno lead. A Tullo killed tied at 11-11, but the Rams roared back and went on a 9-3 run capped by another Young bomb. Fresno never looked back, closing out the match on Pagani's 37th attack. 

In the third set, Julia Pagani put on a clinic with 12 assists as she found Young, her sister, and Claire Corippo for a flurry of hard-hitting kills. Young was the go-to later in the set. Leading 19-18, Lexi Pagani served a 5-0 run with Young drilling three kills and Lexi spinning an ace for set point. 

Fresno took control of the second set as Lexi Pagani served a 5-0 run to break a 4-4 tie. The Rams extended it to 15-5 with Young powering a kill during a 4-0 serving streak from Shelby Saporetti. Another kill by Pagani was followed by two aces by the talented hitter as Fresno doubled the score on the Vikings at 24-12. WVC came right back by fighting off five set points including back-to-back aces by Kate Blackwell, but Fresno called timeout and Saporetti bombed a kill at the net to tie the match for the Rams at 1-1.

In the first set, the teams traded runs and ties. Fresno went on a 5-0 run, including three kills by Pagani to take a 17-13 lead. West Valley responded with a 6-0 run, including two blocks by Alina Valenti. After nine ties in the set, the last at 22-22, Monika Martinez Leon picked the right time for her only attack in the set by ripping a kill. A wall block by Valenti and Keilli Voss was followed by a Rams attack error to give WVC a 1-0 sets lead.

Zakarian said of his team, "All year, people talked about Feather River and Fresno, but we were right there with both of them. We were ahead late in three of the four sets in our loss to Feather River and we won twice against a great Fresno team. We earned our #2 seed and we absolutely deserved to be here."

For West Valley, All-Tourney selection Sydney Rogers handed out 38 assists and Katie Kishton totaled nine kills and 11 digs. 

The North region won its sixth state championship since 2013 and earlier in the tournament did a clean 4-match sweep of the four SoCal quarterfinalists, a first by NorCal. Roblee thinks there is a big reason why the North got very strong in 2021.

"If you look at the top six North teams, five have beach volleyball programs," Roblee said. "There is a definitely a correlation because we had that shortened spring season in April to June. So the players who were playing beach were really fit and ready to go when it came to getting ready for the '21 indoor season."

Fresno's state championship home title was the first since El Camino College accomplished the feat in the 1981 season.

2021 All-State Tournament Team
MVP-Lexi Pagani, Fresno City, Fr. OH
Julia Pagani, Fresno City, So. Setter
Diamond'Nique Young, Fresno City, So. MB
Claire Corippo, Fresno City, Fr. OH
Taylor Tullo, West Valley, Fr. OH
Sydney Rogers, West Valley, Fr. Setter
Callie Muniz, Feather River, So. MB
Awelina Fakalata, American River, Fr. OH
Kami Marion, Bakersfield, Fr. OH
Maddie Harris, San Diego Mesa, So. MB
Alexcis Morris, Grossmont, So. MB
Damani Harvey, Canyons, So. OH

Release by Robert Lewis, CCCAA/CCCWVCA State Championship SID