Lovelock ends Whittell’s six-year regional title reign | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Lovelock ends Whittell’s six-year regional title reign

Steve Yingling, Tribune sports editor

Steve Yingling / Tahoe Daily TribuneWhittell High senior volleyball player Lauren Andrew is attended to after injuring her knee against Incline on Friday in Zephyr Cove.

ZEPHYR COVE – If the Whittell High Warriors are going to win a seventh straight state volleyball championship, they may have to do it without the Nevada 2A League’s top player.

Whittell senior Lauren Andrew suffered a knee injury Friday during the middle game of a semifinal sweep of Incline at the Nevada 2A Regional Tournament at Whittell High School.

Family members took Andrew to have her left knee examined by doctors following Whittell’s 25-18, 26-24 and 25-20 victory over the fourth-seeded Highlanders. She returned to the gym with the aid of crutches and watched the championship match.

The semifinal victory ensured that Whittell will participate in next week’s state tournament in Henderson. But Whittell’s day of heartache continued several hours later when second-seeded Lovelock rallied from two games behind to win the regional title.

Behind a collective defensive effort, the Mustangs came back for a 26-28, 24-26, 25-23, 25-18 and 15-6 victory – their first over the Warriors in eight years.

“It’s tough to go down two games and come back and win three straight, and I was extremely proud of my girls for never giving up,” said Lovelock coach Shauna Bake.

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Lovelock’s five-game upset victory ended Whittell’s six-year run as regional champions.

“We were up in that third game, and we should have finished them off,” said Whittell coach Tony Fathergill. “You give a team like Lovelock a breathing chance, and they will take it.

“They played great defense; they are a scrappy team. They are not going to let anything hit the floor.”

The Mustangs claimed their first regional championship since beating the Warriors in 2001. From 2006-’08, the Mustangs didn’t even win a game against the Warriors. By taking a game from the Warriors in each of their regular-season meetings this season, the Mustangs began to gain confidence that they could eventually beat Whittell. On Friday, they did it by tightening their defense in the third game and by outhitting the Warriors.

“My digs started happening,” Bake said. “Whittell is bigger than we are, so they are going to hit over our block and they are gonna block us, but my defense, they got it done.”

After surviving two late-game runs by the Mustangs to open the match, Whittell was unable to hold a lead in the third game. Lovelock calmly rallied from 24-18 deficits to extended the first two games, but Whittell came up with the key plays to win those games. In the first game, Isabel Concha-Foley spanked a ball just inside the backline, then set a block that forced the Mustangs into a hitting error to end the game. With the score tied at 24 in the second game, Nina Jimenez put away a point with a tip, then Sara Gillsespie served up an ace for clinching point.

“We were still celebrating Battle Mountain, and we weren’t really focused to play the first game, especially against Whittell,” said Bake, referring to her team’s three-game semifinal win over Battle Mountain that clinched a state tournament bid. “We had to settle down and start playing.”

They did and just in time.

Behind the hitting of Jacquelyn Baines and serving of Austyn Herrera, Whittell built a 14-8 lead in the third game. But Lovelock found its defense before being served out of the gym. Their hitting came on, too, as a pair of kills by junior Alex Graham gave Lovelock its first lead, 18-17. The Mustangs moved in front by two points on two different occasions before Whittell sophomore Darby Reeder and Concha-Foley combined for three kills to knot the game at 22.

Three crucial Whittell errors, however, gave Lovelock a two-point victory and new life.

“They definitely didn’t let anything drop,” Reeder said. “We were trying to get the ball down, but it just kept coming back.”

Despite falling behind 8-4 to open the fourth game, the Mustangs gathered themselves and reeled off nine straight points. Whittell never got closer than two points for the remainder of the game.

There was never any doubt in the final game as Lovelock took advantage of its solid serving and Whittell hitting errors to score the first seven points.

“We weren’t fighting as hard as they were, and they really wanted it. We were just saying we wanted it,” Baines said.

A solid serving run by Concha-Foley – including two aces – trimmed Lovelock’s lead to 9-5, but a block and tip by Sarah Brinkerhoff, an ace by Araceli Jimenez and a final kill by Graham sealed Whittell’s feat.

“The fact of the matter is they have to realize all of the simple things. They let up on the simple things, and that’s why a team like this is good enough to take over,” Fathergill said. “We played a little hesitant. We weren’t going for every ball, and we weren’t taking care of the free ball.”

Andrew’s injury obviously impacted her teammates, who dedicated their efforts to her.

“We just tried to stay completely focused on the game, not the injury,” said Whittell senior Isabel Concha-Foley. “We all thought to play for Lauren.”

Andrew was injured when she came down awkwardly on her left leg after making a second straight kill to pull Whittell even at 23 late in game two against Incline.

“Having Lauren get hurt that scared a lot, people had to step up and have a part,” Baines said.

Following an injury delay, Incline’s Mariah Joseph gave her team game point with a kill. But Incline, as it had for most of the match, struggled with unforced errors. A serving ace by Gillespie and two mistakes by the Highlanders gave the Warriors a 26-24 victory and a 2-0 edge. “Losing our Northern Nevada MVP wasn’t what we had in mind,” Fathergill said. “The girls did a good job of getting us through that adversity.”

After holding leads for the second half of game two, Incline was unable to sustain any momentum at the start of the final game. Concha-Foley gave the Warriors a quick 3-1 lead with two kills, and a strong serving run by Reeder put Whittell ahead 19-14.

Incline fought back to with 21-18 on a put-away by sophomore Laurel Perry, but Concha-Foley delivered two more kills as the Warriors eliminated the Highlanders in three games.

Fathergill isn’t convinced that his team can’t win a seventh straight state title with or without Andrew, who will have a MRI on her knee on Saturday. “Strong teams bounce back, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do,” Fathergill said. “We’re going to regroup, refocus and we’re going to defend our title.”

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