Pahranagat Valley girls volleyball coach Ginger Whipple has more volleyball state championships than anyone in Nevada.
But never for a moment think she didn’t appreciate her team’s performance last Saturday, because she most definitely did.
The Panthers defeated Smith Valley 25-23, 23-25, 25-15, 25-12 at Green Valley High to capture the NIAA Division IV state title, and reclaim the championship they lost last year to Tonopah.
It’s a state record 16th state championship for Whipple, who has been coaching the Panthers since 1980, probably even longer. It was also the 20th consecutive year the Panther girls have been in the title match, a feat matched by no other school in the state at any level.
“I’m extra proud of my girls,” Whipple said. “Everyone is special to me, every state title is special. It’s like getting it for the first time.” There are 15 championship banners already hanging in the school gym, and every one has coach Whipple’s name on it.
Pahranagat Valley (30-2) didn’t lose to a Division IV team this season, and finished the year with a 24-match win streak. The Panthers only two losses came against Division III state semifinalist Calvary Chapel, the same team they later beat 3-1 in the regular season finale.
“It is impressive,” Whipple said. “To look at them warm up, you wouldn’t see that. These girls have a lot of grit and have stayed up. They don’t give up on themselves.”
The Panther team was small this year, not much size, even featuring a 5-foot, 6-inch middle blocker, but they were seldom if ever bothered by that. “I’ve told them forever that size doesn’t matter,” Whipple said. “I’m super proud of these girls. They’re so small, and for them to overcome that height issue, I’m just really proud of them.” An old proverb notes, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog,” or in this case Panthers.
Even though PVHS got off to a strong start in the first set Saturday, they had to rally from a 15-19 deficit, using a 10-4 run to win the set. Whipple admitted the girls were nervous and had to take a little time to figure out what Smith Valley was doing, as game 1 featured eight ties.
Smith Valley won the second set, rallying from a 23-21 deficit, thanks in part to three Panther errors and a block by Kellie Rogaczewski.
Rogaczweski finished with nine kills and nine blocks for Smith Valley (22-10), which got seven kills, 16 digs and two blocks from Katie Ladd.
In the third and fourth set, Whipple said, “Our senior leadership took over and decided to make things happen and settled in and brought everybody else along.” Smith Valley did not have the defense Alamo displayed, and made several unforced errors.
Kennedy Huntsman (29 assists, seven aces), Traci Strong (16 kills, 13 digs, three aces) and Bailee Hosier (11 kills, 16 digs, two aces), powered the Panthers to convincing wins in both of the final sets.
“We made a lot of hitting errors tonight, but we weathered that storm,” Whipple said. “The seniors still led and didn’t get down on themselves. Those four girls have carried the team (all year).”
Huntsman, who was exceptionally strong as the setter all during the match said, “It’s my last year, so it meant a lot more. I felt we, as seniors, had to carry the team. I am thrilled, so excited.”
Whipple said in the last two sets, the Bulldogs “tried to change up things, and it wasn’t working for them, and they were getting frustrated. We were able to disrupt a little of their offense and that helped calm down our nerves.”
Hosier said in the sets one and two, the girls “were really nervous, but in the last two, our defense really came together.”
In the final set, Pahranagat got out to a 15-10 lead, then closed out the match with a 10-2 run.
Smith Valley lost in the state semifinals last year. Coach Ally Sceirine remained positive and proud of her team.
“I’m super proud of my girls,” Sceirine said. “They’ve come a long way. I just told them to not cry because it’s over, but smile because it happened. They never quit trying. They played hard and left it all out on the court. As far as our school goes, this is a huge deal.”
In the Friday semifinals, PVHS swept Eureka 3-0. Scores were 25-11, 25-20, 25-17. Bailee Hosier had 13 kills, 18 digs and three aces, and Traci Strong added 14 kills, six digs and four aces as the Panthers swept the Vandals.
Huntsman had 29 assists and three aces for the Panthers, who got 12 digs each from Jamie Hansen and Brooke Higbee.
Smith Valley reached the championship by downing defending state champion Tonopah 3-1.