Clovis High setter Britni Montague, left, sets the ball for middle hitter Lainey Flatow against Tatum during Saturday’s championship match of the Clovis Invitational volleyball tournament at Rock Staubus Gym. (CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle)
By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent
Twenty-seven times last year, little Tatum dominated volleyball match after match with experience, solid defense and precision play in general. Even though the Lady Coyotes graduated all but one of their starters, through three matches this season, nobody had quite figured out how to beat the Class 1A squad.
But Clovis may have just found the key, and it was right in the middle of the court all along.
Middle blockers Jasmine McDonald and Lainey Flatow took turns pounding away at the Lady Coyotes’ defense as the host Lady Wildcats won their own 16-team invitational for the first time since 2004. With the 25-15, 25-17, 28-30, 19-25, 15-11 win in the championship match Saturday night, Clovis avenged a loss to Tatum in last year’s title contest.
McDonald smacked 21 kills and got three blocks, while Flatow recorded 19 kills in the victory.
In the deciding fifth game, McDonald scored a pair of kills in leading Clovis (3-1) to an early 4-2 lead. But Tatum (3-1), which saw a 30-match winning streak come to an end dating to the start of last season, recovered to go ahead 8-6.
At that point, it was Flatow’s turn to shine in the middle as the sophomore got three putaways in an 8-0 run to put the Lady Cats on the verge of victory. After the Lady Coyotes scored three points in a row, the final point went Clovis’ way when Tatum’s Linda Ramirez dove for a ball heading out of bounds and missed an attempt to dig it back up.
“Before the game, he (Clovis coach Darrel Ray) told us they didn’t have as much height as we did, so we could probably work (the middle),” Flatow said. “I know that our team is really solid this year and, when we’ve gone down, we haven’t quit. We knew we could beat this team.”
Ray said he got the notion that a middle attack might be most beneficial by watching Tatum’s semifinal victory earlier on Saturday over Portales. A five-game match as well, the Lady Coyotes won that one 25-23, 22-25, 25-13, 22-25, 15-4.
“Watching the Portales match, we talked about how it looked like they were small,” Ray said. “We felt like if we set it right on top of the net, we could get it done. For two games, it was working flawlessly.”
Flatow and McDonald, who was selected to the all-tourney team along with Clovis outside hitter Siobhan Flatow and setter Britni Montague, continued to get kills in the third game, but Tatum scrambled back from a 20-13 deficit to force a fourth.
The hitting star for the Lady Coyotes was senior Amanda Lopez, the only returning starter from last year’s undefeated team. She had 29 kills against Clovis on Saturday.
“It was a good run,” Tatum coach Mike Majors said. “Take nothing away from Clovis. They sure played well — they kept us off-balance with all that stuff.
“But we really had only one senior who could handle all that pressure. The other girls are young and it’s all a new experience — great experience for them.”