The Panther girls listened and repeated as NIAA Division IV state champions beating Northern Division champion Smith Valley 13-25, 25-11, 25-22, 25-21 last Saturday at Galena High in Reno.
It was a rematch of the 2013 state finals, which Alamo also won 3-1.
But this year, knowing how to finish was the key. PVHS (24-8) scored 13 straight points to close out the second set, and had to dig out of two big holes in the third set, first down 10-1, then 21-10.
Team captain Jamie Hansen said, “We definitely learned how to finish in the state game. It took us the whole season to do so, but then we really learned to push and finish.”
Coach Ginger Whipple said, “It was the confidence we gained with some of our wins at the end of the regular season that showed us we can play with teams that are maybe better or bigger than us.” Hansen agreed, “Those last few matches helped us gain confidence in ourselves.”
However, in the first game of the championship with Smith Valley, the Panthers got a good spanking from the Bulldogs. Whipple said to herself after that, “We’ll see what I’ve talked about and what we have worked on. But the girls were not negative in their demeanor after losing the first set, and we just talked about what are we going to do to fix this?”
Hansen said “fix this” meant following the pre-game strategy and outsmart the other team. “Our hitters didn’t have to kill the ball every time, a well placed hit or a tip was just as good, and we did that.”
Brooke Higbee served several points to start the second set, the offense began to click, and even though Smith Valley caught up 12-11, they did not score again as freshman Ashlyn Wadsworth served 13 points in a row for the win. She said, “I just focused on my serves and put my heart into it. I was trying to serve to an open spot, or an angle, or deep. I like to serve deep.”
In the third set, again the Panthers twice found themselves in a big hole. Down by a score of 10-1, Alamo rallied. In turn, Smith Valley rallied for a 21-10 lead, but again the Alamo girls knew how to finish, and went on a 15-1 run for the win.
Hansen said, “I try not to look at the scoreboard too much. I didn’t want too get discouraged. We all just pushed ourselves a little harder each time. We really played as a team and worked together and kept each other positive in those sets. It was worthwhile, the funnest game I’ve ever played.”
“After that set,” Whipple said, “I had to honestly pinch myself and ask how did that just happen? I guess we just kept our composure.”
The fourth and final set was also tight, but Madison Harris slammed a winner deep in the backcourt for match point. “Smith was waiting for a short ball,” Whipple said, “and Maddi put it home deep.”
Harris said, “I thought maybe they had caught on to me hitting it short all game and thought if I hit it long they wouldn’t be able to get the ball. It was awesome. It was amazing how we came back (in the middle sets).”
Freshman Karley Whipple had 24 kills in the match, Brooke Higbee accounted for 24 digs and Allyse Frehner contributed 31 assists.
Pahranagat Valley has appeared in the state championship game 19 years in a row, winning 15 times. Coach Whipple now has a state record 17 volleyball titles in her 35-year career. Smith Valley finished the season 29-7.
Pahranagat won a close semifinal match with Virginia City on Friday by scores of 26-24, 25-18, 26-24. “The games were closer than they should have been,” Whipple noted “We just struggled to get it together, played poorly, and I had to get the girls to realize this was single elimination and a loss here meant you would not get to the state finals. We gave them points we should not have.”
Smith Valley won their semifinal match with Beatty 25-15, 25-16, 25-11.