Central capitalized on a Sanger volleyball team that got a little distracted in the opening round of the Sanger Slam Tournament on March 1.

The Grizzlies, one of a slew of teams drawn from all over the state, won the first set 25-13 in the Coach Dean Nicholson Gymnasium, which was set up to have a couple of games going on at the same time. Then the Apaches came back and won the second 25-18. Then Sanger pulled off the match with a 15-7 victory in the final set.

Still, Sanger was just getting warmed up, dispatching Roosevelt and Golden Sierra (from Garden Valley north of Sacramento) in two sets apiece later that same day. On March 2, the second day of the tournament, the Apaches tackled Arroyo Grande and Clovis West in the same fashion before losing to rival Clovis East 2-1.

The Apaches embraced difficulty this season, preparing for the tough Division I post-season. “We have a pretty ambitious schedule,” coach Scott Okada said. “I can’t imagine too many sports teams in Sanger playing a tougher schedule. These kids put in the work. It will toughen us up for the division.”

This weekend, Sanger heads to San Diego where it will face 20 of the nation’s top 25 teams in the Best of the West Tournament. “All those teams are pretty good,” Okada said. “It will be a battle. It’s good (though), it will make us work. We’ll see how these guys handle it this year. I think we have a shot against everybody.”

The Apaches, 9-2 overall so far this season, face Clovis North on Tuesday.

“This is a good year,” sophomore Brennan Taylor said. “We have good all-around players. We have good chemistry. The preseason showed us how good we are. We only lost one (game). It showed us what we need to work on.”

In January, the Apache varsity team traveled to San Mateo to play in the Northern California Volleyball Association’s Far Westerns Bid Tournament. The visiting team from Fresno County won it all, qualifying for a spot in the national championships in Dallas this summer.

“It’s a profound accomplishment,” Okada said at the time.

Senior setter John Her said he likes what he sees. “We’re definitely better than last year,” he said. “Chemistry has grown. We could go far this year.

“A lot of hard work is getting put in. They all have improved. It makes my job easier.”

The setter sets up each shot over the net.

“It’s going to be a good year for us,” said junior Grant Harrison. “We have a lot of talent, and we can make a push for the championship.” 

Senior Adrian Mercado said already this year his Apaches have shown their adaptability and strength playing other tough teams, for instancing bouncing back after being down two sets against Clovis East on Feb. 27, winning 3-2. “We had a big comeback,” he said. “We have a lot of weapons we can use, a lot of new players we can use in multiple positions.

“It’s (the preseason) gotten us better and it’s shaped us better as a team.”

And Mercado said he likes his teammates. “I’ve never felt as close to the team as this year,” he said. 

“We had a lot of complications last year. But this year, we get through the tough situations (because of the chemistry). 

“These tournaments prep us for the playoffs. Last year, we lost in the first round against North. All these tournaments will help us get better defensively and offensively.”

The reporter can be contacted by email at nemethfeatures@gmail.com or by phone at the Herald at (559) 875-2511.

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