Viking volleyball completes historic run through CCCAA playoffs

Viking volleyball completes historic run through CCCAA playoffs

In the future, when looking back on the 2021 season, one will obviously see the second place state finish, but one will remember the gritty, never-say-die attitude and play of the most-accomplished volleyball team in West Valley history. Yes, coach Armen Zakarian's Vikings stubbornly dropped a 3-1 CCCAA Volleyball State Championship match to Fresno City Dec. 5 in front of a capacity crowd at Fresno City College, but, what a three-day thrill ride WVC gave the California community college volleyball world.

In the first set of the championship match, the two teams battled back and forth before runs by both teams set the stage for an unexpected, at least by everyone not wearing orange and blue, outcome. Fresno took a 17-13 lead after a 5-0 run, but the Vikings went on a 6-0 run of their own. With the set tied at 22-22, Monika Martinez Leon buried a kill, and blocks from Alina Valenti and Keilli Voss, followed by an attack error from the Rams, gave the Vikings the 25-22 win.

The Rams responded with 25-17, 25-18, 25-19 wins in the next three sets to capture their second championship since 2016.

"We had a great plan and we did a great job to win the first set," Zakarian said. "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."

Viking All-American Taylor Tullo impressed with 18 kills, 12 digs and a pair of service aces. Said Zakarian of his All-State outside hitter, "Taylor rose to the occasion, playing like a leader and doing everything she could to keep us in the match."

Sydney Rogers handed out 38 assists, while Katie Kishton had nine kills and 11 digs. Valenti recorded four blocks and Kate Blackwell served up a team-high three aces.

Both Tullo and Rogers were named to the 2021 All-State Tournament Team. Martinez Leon led the tournament with 12 total blocks, while Tullo was tops in digs with 35. Martinez Leon had a single-match high of eight blocks (four solo, four assists) against American River, which is tied for the 15th-most ever.


The Vikings showed a refuse-to-lose attitude in Friday's quarterfinal and Saturday's semifinal matches:

CCCAA State Championship Quarterfinal: West Valley over Grossmont 25-20, 26-24, 25-22

The north #2-seeded Vikings trailed late in every set against the south #3 Griffins, yet still pulled out the match win. Grossmont had 9-3, 17-14, 18-17 leads in the opening set, but a trio of Kishton kills and a block by Valenti on set-point completed the WVC rally.

WVC started set two on fire, leading 11-6, but fell victim to a 6-0 Grossmont run that gave the Griffins a 21-16 lead. Grossmont had set point at 24-22 and 24-23, but kills from Tullo, Valenti and a pair from Kishton gave WVC the improbable 26-24 win.

The Griffins again held leads at 7-2, 16-11 and 18-14 in the third set, but West Valley rallied with an impressive 11-4 run that culminated with a Tullo backline blast and an ace that put the Vikings up 20-19. Kishton sealed the set and the match with back-to-back kills.

Said Zakarian of the first state quarterfinal win of his tenure, "I never saw us play from behind with so much heart. To see Kishton come into her own with big kills late in the match and then Tullo crushing the ball at the end was great."

Kishton had a match-high 16 kills, and Tullo had 10 kills, 11 digs and three aces. Flor Porras had a team-high 12 digs, while Rogers handed out a match-high 35 assists, and Valenti had three blocks.


CCCAA State Championship Semifinal: West Valley over American River 25-13, 27-25, 25-23

It doesn't matter what sport it is, defense wins championships. That idiom came to fruition in WVC's Saturday's semifinal, as the Vikings advanced to their first-ever CCCAA Volleyball State Championship with a well-earned win over the north #4-seeded Beavers.

The first set was all West Valley as Valenti served a 12-0 run that put the Vikings up 16-4. The lead grew to 23-7 on the strength of the defense of Martinez Leon, who, at one point recorded three consecutive solo blocks. The set ended on a Beaver service error.

Set two was nothing like the first, even though the Vikings raced out to a 20-14 lead. A fierce ARC rally closed the gap to 21-20, but a Voss kill gave the Vikings set point at 24-23. Two WVC attack errors gave the Beavers set point at 25-24, but a Kishton kill tied it and back-to-back stuff blocks from Martinez Leon and Voss gave the Vikings the important second set victory. 

The third set again started out West Valley's way, as they built 20-14 and 22-17 leads. ARC closed to within 22-21, but a Beaver error ended the match at 25-23.

A giddy Zakarian talked about the first WVC trip to the state final. "I can't believe it. We're a team that has found ways to win, sometimes winning ugly points," he said. "Monika Martinez Leon wasn't even starting for us until late in the season and she steps up and has her best match today. We knew we had to get American River out of system, so we scouted and had a game plan to cover all the parts."

Tullo finished with 13 kills and 12 digs, while Kishton had 12 kills, six digs and an ace. Martinez Leon rejected a tournament-high eight blocks, and Rogers delivered 31 assists to go along with two blocks and five digs.  


A final "well-done" to the entire 2021 Viking volleyball program, who accomplished more than any West Valley team before them and laid the foundation for all Viking teams to follow: Camdyn Albrecht, Kate Blackwell, Elia Duenas, Hailey Keith, Katie Kishton, Janelle Laflin, Kiana Manson, Monika Martinez Leon, Belen Morgan, Flor Porras, Sydney Rogers, Tristin Sahlie, Taylor Tullo, Alina Valenti, Keilli Voss, AC Lake Merchen, AC Eric Pauly, AC Davidson Wong, HC Armen Zakarian.
And a special thank you to all the fans, family and friends who made the trip to Fresno to watch THEIR Vikings. They couldn't have done it without YOU!