There are 12 players listed on the Woodlake volleyball team’s roster.
But to head coach Tori Johnson, it took a complete community effort to achieve something that hadn’t been accomplished at Woodlake in 24 years.
The No. 1-seeded Tigers held off No. 7 Kingsburg in five sets 19-25, 25-15, 23-25, 25-20, 15-13 to win the Central Section Division IV championship on Thursday night in Woodlake.
It was the program’s first Central Section title since 1988.
“We had alumni that was from Texas texting us, people at UC Davis texting u,s and kids that came back just to show their support,” Johnson said in a phone interview. “It truly was a community event. This is what makes me so proud to be a part of Woodlake volleyball.”
Following their championship victory, the Tigers along with their fans took to the Woodlake Drive-In, a local restaurant, to celebrate.
“This is so intense,” Woodlake captain Melissa Samaniego said. “I’m just so happy that the community is here to support us. It is like one big family.”
Samaniego had an impressive championship performance, finishing with 25 kills and four blocks.
She also had plenty of support from KiAnna Cunningham, who finished with 26 kills and four blocks, and Brenda Acosta, who finished with 52 assists and three kills.
“It is definitely a great accomplishment that we worked hours for,” Samaniego said. “All of our hard work paid off.”
Things may have been looking a bit grim for the Tigers. They found themselves in a 2-1 hole, but for the second time in the playoffs, rallied for the win.
In the quarterfinals, the Tigers trailed 2-1, but won the fourth set 34-32 en route to a dramatic victory.
In the championship match, they won the fourth set 25-20 and then held on for a 15-13 victory in the fifth and final set.
“We literally started talking about poise,” Johnson said. “We have to remember the pillar of poise and play like winners and stay the fight. It was poise that led us. In addition to that, we do a snap because that ball is over with. We snap and we’re ready for the new ball.”
Samaniego admits that a little bit of doubt may have crept into the players’ minds, but her team never wavered.
“There might have been a slight doubt, but we had to snap out of it,” she said. “We wanted this more than anybody else.”
The season has already been a very memorable one for the Tigers. They wrapped up a second consecutive undefeated East Sequoia League championship and improved to 26-4 overall with Thursday’s victory.
But it isn’t over just yet. The Tigers will likely host a Southern California regional match on Tuesday.
The Tigers are looking forward to that match, but Thursday night was about celebrating a piece of Woodlake history and community pride.
“It just shows you what hard work can do,” Johnson said. “We’ve been working so hard. It isn’t just this year’s team. I credit the alumni, which raised the bar each year. It has been a gradual thing. The program accomplished this feat. The volleyball girls before us are the ones that laid the foundation for us to be successful and Valley champions.”