RENO, Nev. - The four-peat was not meant to be.
The three-time defending state champion Wolverines looked sharp early in their Division I-A state semifinal volleyball match against Chaparral on Friday, winning the first set 25-15 and leading for much of the second.
But the day belonged to the Cowboys, as the No. 2 seed out of the South heated up midway through the second game and never cooled off en route to the victory in four sets, 15-25, 25-21, 25-20, 25-20.
Chaparral went on to lose in straight sets in the state final against South Tahoe, which Truckee defeated in all three meetings this season.
"Isn't that ironic? But that's the beauty of coaching high school sports. Those things are just so unpredictable," said Truckee head coach Erika Murphy. "It's about the energy and the moment of the day."
While Chaparral gained confidence as the match wore on, Truckee didn't help its own cause, as it committed a number of uncharacteristic errors down the stretch.
"I don't think Chaparral did anything different except they started playing a little bit more aggressively," said Murphy, whose Wolverines entered the state tournament as the No. 1 Northern seed after defeating South Tahoe for the regional title. "We went from 90 percent serving in the first set to 60-something percent in the second. So I think what happened was we kind of started to unravel. That part was a bummer to watch, because you could see it kind of escalate.
"It's a mindset. Sometimes it's not the best team that wins; it's just the best team that day."
Chaparral senior outside hitter Jaeda Allen, at 6 foot 2 with perhaps the most powerful kill shot in the Division I-A, took control of the match after the second set. She finished with 28 kills, repeatedly blasting shots over Truckee's outsized block.
"We've been struggling with that all season," Murphy said of Truckee's lack of height in the front row. "We don't have the block that we had last year. We knew that going in, and we knew we just had to dig better. Jaeda Allen definitely was over our block by about 12 inches."
Truckee's own big hitters held their own, as junior outside hitter Mackenzie Redner tallied 24 kills while senior Mel Jones, whom Murphy named her Player of the Match, had 16 kills. But the Cowboys used their height, as well as 21 digs by libero Cheyenne Huntsman, to increasingly deny the Truckee attempts over the final three sets.
The Wolverines were on their game at the start. They took their first lead at 4-3 in the opening set and never trailed after as Redner and Jones began connecting with hard kills, and senior libero Kestlie Stefanelli dug balls in the back row. Jones tapped a ball softly over the Cheyenne block to seal the 10-point Truckee victory.
The second set remained tight early before the Wolverines edged ahead by a three-point margin midway through, at 14-11. Allen and the Cowboys were just beginning to find their groove, however, as they tied the score at 15-all, gained the lead at 19-18 and outscored Truckee 6-3 to the finish.
Momentum had clearly shifted. By the end of the second set, the Wolverines began to struggle in normally strong facets of their game. Communication broke down and serves started falling short or sailing long. On several occasions, Truckee players misjudged a Cheyenne serve thought to be long and let it fall as a point.
Despite their struggles, the Wolverines never relented.
They kept Game 3 close through the first eight points, as the teams shared six ties and traded five lead changes. Cheyenne took over the lead for good at 8-7 as Allen began driving home kills with regularity, and Truckee found it tougher to find holes in the Cowboys' defense.
"I thought that our serving was good when they did get in there, and it was disruptive. But it wasn't disruptive enough," Murphy said. "The setter, all she had to do was simply push the ball outside."
The final game remained close throughout as the Wolverines scrapped to keep their state title hopes alive. The game featured 11 ties and four lead changes, the last one when Cheyenne pulled ahead, 15-14. The Cowboys outscored the Wolverines 9-6 from there to cement the win.
"In the beginning they looked nervous," Cheyenne head coach Jay Renneker said of his players. "But once they figured it out and settled down, they played great. They (the Wolverines) challenged us the whole way though."
Senior setter Gabby Moretti tallied 45 assists, 10 digs and two service aces for the Wolverines, while Chelsea Mohun and Lauren Peak each recorded two kills, and Stefanelli and Redner each had 15 digs.
For the Cowboys, who posted a final record of 24-14 on the season, Rita Mesa-Mola finished with 14 kills, Katie Oliveira had 51 assists and Huntsman had nine aces.
The Wolverines were riding a 14-match winning streak entering state, dating back to a Sept. 22 loss to International of San Francisco. They finished the year 23-10 overall.
After being eliminated, Murphy said the Wolverines were pulling for the Vikings to win the state championship match, which they did in dominant fashion, 25-15, 25-21, 25-12, a day after upsetting top-seeded Faith Lutheran in the semifinal.
"I was excited for South Tahoe. Our team was rooting for South Tahoe once we got knocked out. I was really proud of the girls for that," Murphy said. "Their mentality was, 'If it's not going to be us, it might as well be South Tahoe.'"